Friday, August 10, 2012

The Artist Formerly Known As Jonny Corndawg

Seeing Jonny play is something of a spectacle.  Is it serious music?  Is he laughing at the characters in his songs?  Or, merely relaying mundane stories his characters go through in the most sincere way possible?  It would be hard to argue with the last ponder.  I mean, when you hear the character in "Chevy Beretta" you know that you have met that guy.  You have hated that cocky SOB.  But, there was also something about him that endeared you to him.  And it's that precise feelings-at-odds sensation that makes Jonny's music so memorable.

This was the 3rd time in the past year I had seen Jonny.  While I could sense a little road weariness in Jonny's demeanor and banter, I still thought he put on a better show than many musicians- i.e., as much as I love James McMurtry, his frontman skills are slightly lacking.  The show began with a D.C. native Jonny Grave and the Tombstones.

Jonny Grave played loud, raucous blues in the style of R.L. Burnside meets Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (think Ass Pocket of Whiskey).  It's very difficult to play this style of music and not have the audience pretty enthralled and dancing.  That's exactly what was happening as the set progressed.  Also, Jonny Grave is quite the front man playing with a chip on his shoulder.  If you don't know Jonny Grave already, I think it's worth your time to look him up and see what you think (here).  

Next was Jonny Corndawg (for the time being).  Bringing with him his backing band (The Almond Brothers Band), Jonny played all of the crowd favorites including "Exercise," "Middle Brother," "Shut Up," and "Silver Pantie Liners" just to name a few.  Every song, however comical it may be, was played with utter seriousness and sincerity.  Is that to say that Jonny takes himself too seriously?  No, not at all.  But, he believes in the songs that he writes and the characters they portray.

Half way through the set, he made an announcement.  That announcement being that he would no longer be going by the name "Jonny Corndawg" but would instead be going by his real name, "Jonny Fritz."  I believe this is probably a smart move towards gaining more serious attention.  His songwriting is top notch and this change will likely get him more attention from those who might be put off by a country singer named Jonny Corndawg with an album titled "Down on the Bikini Line."  

As I said earlier, Jonny seemed a little road weary, but it did not detract from the show much at all.  It's hard to go into one of his shows and not come out in a very good mood.  It's fun to see musicians have fun and engage the crowd.  The band had fun.  They are a tight-knit country band and I'm excited for future shows and albums.

Go see Jonny Fritz when he comes through your town.  Go buy his albums.  Give them a listen.  Laugh if you want, that's alright.  There's a lot of humor in the absurd situations that go on day in and day out of our lives.  You have to laugh at them.  As the old North Mississippi lyric goes, "you see me laughin', Lord I'm laughin' just to keep from cryin'." 

I have to think that Jonny's characters might feel the same way.  Or, they don't.  And, I guess that's the beauty of interpretation.

Thursday, March 15, 2012



This thing still live??

Alright, alright.  I'm back at it.

New post coming tomorrow.  Count on it.

Hank 3 tonight.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Sound of the Apocalypse

So, it's been a while since I have been here.  Not sure anyone has missed me, but in case you have, I apologize. I have been very busy with a few things and have just not had the time to get around to keeping this up.  That doesn't mean that I haven't been going to shows, because I have.  And this week, I'm writing two posts to make up for lost time.

First, we'll start with a show that was very awesome to me because of how long I have liked the band and the fact that it was a reunion tour.  That band is the seminal post-rock, instrumental band: Godspeed You! Black Emperor.  The band that had taken a few years off to allow the members go in different directions; i.e. A Silver Mt. Zion.  These bands that were begun after GY!BE were great in their own right, but they were no where near the sheer emotional power that the original band was able to generate.

For this show, which happened way back in March, I got Andrew to come with me once again.  He wasn't too familiar with the band, but per usual, he was shoe-in to see a band that I had been talking up.  To be honest, it had been a couple of years since I had listened to GY!BE religiously, but I knew this was a show I couldn't miss.  And once again, I wasn't wrong.

The opener for GY!BE was a one man noise band from Canada.  The name was as memorable as the band.  I couldn't tell you who it was and I wouldn't want you to waste your time.  It appeared that there were actually people there for the band, although, they were surely seeing something in the music that must go way above my head.  (Or, they just wanted to be super alternative.  I'll assume the latter.)  The noise lasted, with no audible melody, for 30 minutes before he left the stage to begin preparations for the main act.

Once GY!BE began, it was like a tour de force of sheer beauty and power.  It was a glimpse inside the head of someone having a feverish nightmare.  The show started with a flickering screen with the word "Hope" blinking.  There was something so hopeless about the music, that to see the word blinking on the screen seemed ironic.  But, there was such conviction in the music, that you truly believed that in the music was hope and beauty, with little irony involved.

Mostly sitting on the stage, GY!BE proceeded to lay the music on with subliminal and ethereal images playing in the background.  The images ranged from burning objects and landfills to simple words and computer screens.  The crowd was deeply enthralled in the music and there was not much talking going on in the set with massive roars as each song bled into the next.  The band played my favorite song, "Moya" with the ease and conviction of a band that has been playing together for decades, however retaining the vigor of a young band yet to be jaded.

I was glad that this band reunited to play a handful of tours.  I was, and am still, glad that I was able to see them play a live show.  I don't think I could have ever imagined how incredibly well their music translates to the live venue.  As we were walking after the show Andrew described the music as the music of nightmares.  I  tend to think it's more the music of post-Apocalyptic days.  But, I guess in the end they are really both the same.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"She's So Scandalous, Nothin' Good on Her Mind"

Every once in a while a band comes along that kinda takes that good Rock n Roll we all adore and removes it from the current year.  They take it back to the days when Rock n Roll was full of sexual innuendos, fun, and social commentary.  All of the great blues players were notorious for singing these type of songs- from Robert Johnson and Mississippi Fred McDowell to Leadbelly and R.L. Burnside.  Now, in the year 2011, we have Black Joe Lewis.  Taking his cue from the blues players' innuendos and the Rick James and James Brown wails, BJL brings us all to that incredible place in music that very few artists are able to achieve.

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears came to D.C. for the second time in 2 years in March.  They chose, wisely, the mainstage at The Black Cat.  This happened to be my first show at the mainstage at this little club that I have grown to love.  The mainstage was no different.  The size was perfect, along with the sound.

On this evening, I had a large crowd with me, but specifically KA, MCB, and CCC.  It would be all of their first BJL show, and I promised them that this would be a show they would be hard-pressed to stand still.

The evening started off with the girl punk band Those Darlins.  This band was pretty good, and after I learned they were from TN, they sounded a hell of a lot better!  Their energy was infectious, and although the lead singer had some pretty bizarre faces, I had a hard time standing still.  If you like good punk rock with a little twang, then this band could be for you.  For those of you interested, go check out the song "Wild One."

As much as I enjoyed Those Darlins, I was extremely antsy for the beginning of the BJL & THB show.  I was curious how my friends would react to the straight up Rock n Roll swagger of the band.  I was sure that the band would deliver and lo and behold, deliver they did!

With a backdrop of running clips of prominent 70s black men and women- from Pam Grier to Muhammad Ali- BJL took the stage by storm and never let up.  BJL refused to let anyone stand still with the foot-stomping, booty-shaking, and body-convulsing tunes that ripped through the sound system.  With a mix of songs ranging from his previous and current catalog, he also added in a gratifying grab-bag of cover versions of songs such as "Snatch it Back and Hold It."

Once the party that is a BJL show began, it never stopped and never let up.  There were white boys and girls dancing like they knew what they were doing.  There were black boys and girls dancing, actually knowing what they were doing.  There were all in between and before and after dancing- some more able than others.  And most importantly, they were there together dancing.  Letting the music take over.

The night wore on with searing sax and horn solos.  With break-neck drumming and bass guitar creating the perfect rhythm section.  With BJL getting so into every song, every note, that at one point he hearkened back to that old guitar player with our all familiar with when he broke into a solo using only his teeth.  The show from here broke into a fever with the final songs of the night being played which were "Please" (which is below) and "Please, Pt. II."

Although those of us there were deaf for most of the next day, I could not have asked for a better time with a better group of people.  It was fun from the first note until the final guitar fuzz and feedback faded.  An experience such as BJL & THB is one that everyone should witness, and I feel bad for you if you have let the opportunity to go see these guys perform pass you.  But, never fear.  They are touring now and continue to tour around the clock.  Go to their website.  Check them out.  You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"And If What You Seek Ain't Free, Then Steal It."

It's so cliche to hear someone say how some movie, book, or album/artist changed their lives.  You see it everywhere.  You become desensitized to the very notion of life-changing experiences.

There's a growing popularity in the music I love.  In the laid-back, yet emotion-filled lyrics and music that can grow fierce in the next chord change.  This music that has many names- "Southern Rock," "Alternative Country," or the one that never really caught on- "Cowpunk."  So with this growing popularity comes more "Artists that Changed My Life" posts focused on those artists that I have held so dear to me for the past few years.  I generally take each and every one with a grain of salt because, after all, how many times can your life REALLY be changed??

I had been seeing on the blog sites that this one artist, in particular, was something of a game changer when it came to seeing a man with just an acoustic guitar.  That when you left you would feel like someone had taken your head, opened it up, grabbed that stake that is "Knowledge," and driven it deep with the world's largest sledge-hammer.  By the way, that sledge-hammer would seem like it weighs ten tons and has been nowhere other than his shoulders.  That artist, my friends, is Tim Barry.

So, as I said, I don't think the notion of "life-changing" has much meaning anymore and when I kept seeing his name, I was skeptical.  And, anyway, I had listened to some of his stuff.  It was good.  I liked it a lot.  But, "life-changing?"  Come on, man...

Well, Saturday night, while accompanied by KK, that notion was put on display. And as much as Mr. Tim Barry doesn't care, holy shit!

The evening started out with the musings of Josh Small, who coming in at about 5'3", 120 lbs., made me feel what Andrew must feel like looking at me.  But the music and soul coming out of him was incredible.  I can't say enough good things about Mr. Small and I think that each and everyone of you would be better off having listened to him.  He was accompanied by a harmonica player named Andrew, coincidentally.  Small himself was accompanied by a beautiful resophonic guitar and a telecaster which he would strum or play slide on.  It was beautiful music, and accompanied by the harmonica it was even better.

Next, we had the pleasure of hearing a young, strong-voiced woman by the name of Jenny Owen Youngs.  She was accompanied by just her guitar and her voice.  Remember how Jewel used to sound when she was just starting out and sleeping in cars- and still pretty damned good?  Well, take that rawness, and add in a little more emotion.  You have Jenny Young Owens.  She was very good, and although I'm not particularly keen on women's voices (I don't know why.  Just my only flaw, I guess.), she had me wanting more by the end of her set.

It was now time for Tim Barry.  Mind you, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  I mean, how "bad-ass" can a man with his acoustic guitar be, right?  My how we forget.  How we forget the power that Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and Johnny Cash were once able to evoke with a strong voice, incredible words, and three chords.  I was reminded, though, on Saturday night.

When Tim Barry came out, he walked up to the mic unassumingly, strapped on his guitar, said his hellos, and began what would become the most intense show I can remember seeing.  I just cannot try to tell you how incredible this experience was.  I have said many times, that this band "rocked" or this band "rolled."  But, my GOD, how this one man on guitar (with accompaniment from Josh Small on slide guitar and Andrew {not that Andrew} on harmonica) was able to stir up so many emotions.  Emotions on subjects such as death, life, politics, love, loss, and just plain being pissed off.  There were those who were right up front singing these songs along with him in an Irish pub type of manner.  There were those who listened closed-eyed, intent on hearing every word and taking it in with the gravity of universe.  And there those who stood there, slack-jawed.  Amazed at the soul.  At the energy.  At the pure severe emotional power of these songs.  Each one coming with more urgency than the last.

I had the pleasure of having maybe the best moment at a show I can remember.  Tim played Wait at Milano (please go watch the video), and talked about how it once was about depression and about a friend of his who had died.  He described that as being in the past and with the birth of more family and friends around him, it had new meaning.  It was beautiful.  I won't say anything else to muddle up what emotions the song brought or what it will bring to you.

The show climaxed with the song Avoiding Catatonic Surrender.  I couldn't have asked for a better way to end what had been the most intense show I had ever seen.  Throughout all of the rock shows.  All of the guitars turned up to 11.  It was one man, an acoustic guitar, and some back-up guitar and harmonica.  With something to say.  Sometimes that's all it takes.

I took a few days before writing this, because I was sure at some point the "new" would wear off.  I would think, "OK, it was a good night.  But, most intense!?"  Well, those days have passed.  And, I feel stronger and stronger about my statements.  One time Andrew had said to me, "A guy and a guitar just doesn't do it for me anymore."  I had told him I generally agreed.  No matter what, Andrew will come with me next time.  And he will see that there are still those out there that have lots to say, and they don't need much to say it.

Until then, here's the best I can do.