The Set List — 9-09-2004


September 09, 2004

Janis Ian

Janis Ian was the first musical guest to appear on “Saturday Night Live,” where she sang her ode to lonely, unattractive teenage girls, “At Seventeen.” With its verses about “ugly duckling girls like me” and “inventing lovers on the phone,” one could almost hear the universal sobs emanating from the bedrooms of acne-plagued adolescents. It’s rather odd that she found such a natural connection singing about the younger set, because her teenage years were anything but normal. She had her first hit at 15 with “Society’s Child,” a tale of interracial teen love. Needless to say, she had parents drenched in cold sweat as they perused their children’s albums to find out what other mischief their kids might be getting into. (Friday and Saturday, September 10 and 11, at the Hoover Library Theater; 8 p.m. $20) — Ed Reynolds

The Damnwells

You’d be enjoying a proper interview with The Damnwells if they weren’t the most publicity-averse band in New York City. I used to blame the Epic label for trying to bury this Brooklyn band’s Bastards of the Beat—despite the album being loaded with earnest plainspoken tunes whose lack of pretension is their biggest charm. Smooth and sparse tracks are contrasted with others that work up convincing heads of steam, all brimming with stylistic atmosphere and sheer musical invention.

And if any of those descriptions sound reliably dull, it’s because I lifted a bunch of misleading praise from the Trouser Press reviews for BoDeans and Grant Lee Buffalo. The difference is that you won’t be embarrassed to someday still own a Damnwells album.

The guys in The Damnwells won’t mind that gag, either. They’ve already had to endure plenty of more insulting comparisons—although the real high point was when the indie mag No Depression accused them of sounding like “poor man’s Americana.” It was a bad review, too, which should leave all of us wondering exactly what’s missing from the logic there.

Most likely, what’s missing is the $20 that certain No Depression critics charge for providing positive reviews. Anyway, The Damnwells have recorded one of those Albums of the Year that you’ve never heard of. Actually, it’s kind of refreshing how that’s their own damn fault. (Wednesday, September 15, at The Nick, $7) —J.R. Taylor

Paul “Wine” Jones

Listening to Paul Jones’ raucous, haphazard vocals and runaway train guitar licks, it’s easy to start wondering how he got the nickname. Make that stop wondering. This isn’t juke joint or front porch blues so much as falling-off-the-porch blues, egged on by adult doses of getting-tossed-out-of-the-joint, Mississippi back-roads skronk. It’s a glorious mess, but Jones’ lack of technical proficiency is matched by an appealing lack of pretense; song titles such as “Roll That Woman” and “Guess I Just Fu**ed It All Up” suggest that this artist is what is sometimes referred to as “the genuine article.” If it were possible to isolate the basic elements of Delta and Memphis music, toss them into the trunk of a big ’78 Bonneville, and then get liquored up for an all-night drive to Memphis, you might not recreate Jones’ sound, but you could get dangerously close to his style.

In one respect, someone actually has isolated the elements of Jones’ particular style. A remix of his song “Goin’ Back Home” adds jazz samples and electronic flourishes to Jones’ gritty number, sounding like The Fall and Gang of Four covering Canned Heat, with John Lee Hooker’s vocals. That won’t happen at the live show, but this stunning track can be heard on Jones’ 1999 Fat Possum gem Pucker up Buttercup. (Wednesday, September 15, at Club XS, Tuscaloosa and Tuesday, September 21, at The Nick; $6) —David Pelfrey

The Pierces

It was a strange day when the mail brought The Pierces’ debut CD in 2000. I’d never seen ballerinas from Birmingham who’d grown up to be anything but waitresses and/or heroin addicts. It certainly wasn’t their fault that gorgeous harmonies and ethereal beauty were about to become old hat. The record was pretty impressive, but it was kinda obvious that it wouldn’t age any better than your average Christina Ricci performance.

The Pierces (click for larger version)

And nobody could’ve complained if The Pierces’ long-delayed follow-up was a commercial contrivance. Instead, Light of the Moon is even more unrepentantly gorgeous than the first album, with producer Brian Sperber carefully anchoring their languid sound to a true heart of darkness. Maybe everyone in Birmingham has been enjoying this maturation, but idiots in NYC didn’t have any idea what the gals have been doing lately. Oh, wait—the Strokes guitarist, right? (Wednesday, September 15, at Workplay; 8 p.m. $8) —J.R. Taylor

Billy Joe Shaver

Perhaps the greatest country music outlaw since Johnny Paycheck, Billy Joe Shaver has never strayed far from the working-man ethic embraced by his more famous buddies Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and the late Waylon Jennings. Shaver played Zydeco several years ago in a quartet that featured his son Eddy assaulting patrons’ ears with a bulldozer guitar attack. Despite his son’s electrified licks, the elder Shaver’s songs retained their stark lyrical and melodic charms. After the show, the band immediately hit the bar to drink and carry on with unattached women. Not Billy Joe. Having been sober for quite a few years after a lifetime of hard drinking and drugging, the ever humble, unpretentious Shaver carried on with business as usual as he broke down and packed up everyone’s gear, including the drummer’s equipment. And he didn’t mind chatting with a stranger while he worked, talking endlessly about how much he missed his dog back home.

Billy Joe Shaver found a way to whip his demons. Unfortunately, his son never did. Eddy Shaver died of a heroin overdose on New Year’s Eve 2001. Devastated, the elder Shaver found solace that night by enlisting Willie Nelson to take his son’s spot in the band at an Austin club in what must have been the most emotional performance of his career.

In a world of boring, generic singer/songwriters too numerous to list, Billy Joe Shaver is the last of a dying breed. Widely regarded as a cowboy poet laureate after Waylon Jennings recorded an entire album of Shaver songs (except for one) on Honky Tonk Heroes, Shaver nevertheless continues to labor in virtual obscurity. And he does it his own way. Who else would record a song written after Kurt Cobain’s suicide and end it with a shotgun blast? (Wednesday, September 22, at Workplay; 7 p.m., $20) — Ed Reynolds

Gene Watson

Like musical legend George Jones, Gene Watson is admired throughout the country music industry as a “singer’s singer” for his smooth but unique vocal delivery. It’s country in the truest sense. Watson spent a decade touring Texas honky tonks before hitting the charts with “Bad Water” in 1975. His only number-one record was the catchy “Fourteen Carat Mind.” But the real diamond in his repertoire is the tearjerker “Farewell Party,” the greatest funeral dirge since the Carter Family sang “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” It’s the ultimate song of self-absorption and self-pity, as Watson sings from the perspective of a corpse peering from his casket, watching his friends bringing him flowers one last time while his true love has the time of her life “at my farewell party.” More creepy than tragic. (Thursday, September 23, at the Cullman County Fair, Cullman) — Ed Reynolds

Marc Broussard

Marc Broussard (click for larger version)

Remember when we used to complain about bands whose soulful roots were as deep as the theme-park camps of Orlando, Florida? At least those kids had an excuse. Marc Broussard is genuinely depressing as the product of both a fine musical heritage and an industry that was supposed to spare us from pop pap. This guy grew up surrounded by some of the best musicians in Louisiana. He was also helped along by the same crappy Americana industry that’s hyped soulless acts such as Ryan Adams. The result has been a major-label career that’s left Broussard fitting in perfectly on bills with Maroon 5 and Gavin DeGraw. The new album’s called Carencro, and it’s just more of a beautiful R&B voice singing useless crap. (Thursday, September 23, at Workplay; 9 p.m. $12) —J.R. Taylor

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