David Allan Coe
To call the overflow crowd at David Allan Coe's concert at Peabody's homogenous would be like saying the NRA members are in agreement about the Second Amendment. Suffice to say the bar didn't move a lot of Guinness, Samuel Adams, or Corona that evening. It was Budweiser (or Bud Light), cigarettes, tattoos, leather, bandannas, raised middle fingers, and the adjective fucking before every noun. Those who weren't wearing shirts with Coe's face or a Harley-Davidson emblem on them were clad in shirts proclaiming their love of the Ku Klux Klan (honest) or a member college of the Southeastern Conference. If Hollywood ever wants to remake To Kill a Mockingbird, this would be a good place to look for extras for the lynch-mob scene.
David Allan Coe is the poet laureate of the pissed-off Caucasian working class. These folks fancy themselves outsiders and identify with Coe, the ultimate outsider. Country music might have moved to the suburbs, but Coe is still stuck in a trailer park on the edge of the rural county-seat town. Say what you like about Coe, he's a consummate entertainer. He knows his audience and gives it what it wants--even if that's just a healthy dose of drinking and divorce songs peppered with the S- and F-words and all their variations.
Coe is touring to support his latest album, Recommended for Airplay. Most of the early part of the show was devoted to numbers from that disc, including an autobiographical song about Coe's eleven stints in Ohio prisons and youth reformatories. Coe did snippets from too many songs to begin to list, but covered in their entirety some of the all-time favorites like "Willie, Waylon, and Me," "The Ride," "When I Was a Young Man," and "You Never Even Called Me by My Name." The hit of the night, almost needless to say, was the performing of his sing-along signature song "If That Ain't Country (I'll Kiss Your SSS)."
Coe makes a lot of people--if only certain kinds of people--fabulously happy. That is what really matters. Let the sociologists take it from there.
The Vibrasonics, a local country band with strong affections for the hits of the 1950s and '60s, warmed up the crowd with a good set of mainly covers of people like Johnny Cash, Webb Pierce, George Jones, and Merle Haggard. The group took in stride the frequent chanting of "David Allan Coe" and genuinely looked to be enjoying its gig.
Winston Blues Revival
Fat Fish Blue
Any more shows like the Winston Blues Revival, and Fat Fish Blue might finally start losing that new car smell. Shaking off some dust from a lifetime of Southern hardship were selected performers from the Music Makers Relief Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides aging blues traditionalists with such staples as food, medicine, and, of course, guitars. Those who attended the sold-out show (and especially those who stayed until the end) were treated to the kind of night that should happen routinely in Cleveland, as it does in Austin and other musical ports.
With foundation supporter Taj Mahal as the marquee performer (and the only seasoned professional), the revival wisely focused the spotlight on three remarkable performers: Cootie Stark, Neal Pattman, and Beverly "Guitar" Watkins. Here were three direct links to the origin of blues: unrecorded and unrecognized, and playing most of their gigs on the streets. The despair and hope heard Thursday night in their music were personal emotions--not stories told through a middleman in a Hawaiian shirt or a seventeen-year-old prodigy. These were people who, as Stark said, "had been through the hassles."
The blind, 72-year-old Stark played authentic Piedmont blues. At the end of his set, he stood below an overhead spotlight, arms raised as if in salvation, as the cheers washed over him. Pattman, a harmonica player who lost his arm in a wagon wheel sixty-six years ago, displayed a low voice rich with raw emotion and rough with mileage. Backed on the upright bass by Mahal, Pattman may have had a limited repertoire, but his moaning singing style carried punch not yet reduced by age.
And then there's Watkins, a sixty-year-old crawlin' queen snake. This woman is so filled with authentic blues attitude, you could take her on her worst day, spin her around ten times, and beat her over the head with a bag of sand--and she would still kick Courtney Love's ass all over town. Halfway through the set, an amazed audience member wondered to nobody in particular, "What's your Grandma doing tonight?"
Mahal joined in on nearly everything, and his low-key set of harmonic guitar filled out the remarkable four-hour tribute to the survivors of American blues.
Wilbert's Bar & Grille
Swing dancing at Wilbert's is like having sex in a crawl space: You're glad you're doing it, but you really can't show off what you've learned. The facts are that jump blues carries a significant participatory quality about it, and anybody who argues that it is a form of listening music hasn't seen Colin James and the Little Big Band II. Song titles in their jukebox don't have words like "stompin'," "leapin'," and "jumpin'" for nothing. Shows like these beg for some turf, and not just for the gang who dropped forty bucks at the community center for dance lessons.
Benny Goodman once said, "Defining swing is like describing the color red to a kid who's never seen it." What was evident was this was nowhere near the overworked "Zoot Suit Riot" sound. This was easily more soulful, like a '50s party in Ray Charles's kitchen.
So it sounded sharp, but what really made it work was James's obvious knowledge of the swing form and the understanding of professional showmanship. The songs in the nearly two-hour show ran together effortlessly, wisely mixing influences that ranged from Cab Calloway to Jackie Wilson. Nearly every song was punctuated with an impressive solo by the horn section or a round of guitar by James himself. The horns drove the set with a sweep-and-sway punch that, along with the bass, had beer bottles vibrating off the nearby counters. With that kind of balance in song and sound, all you need is a voice--and fortunately James had the vocals to match.
James is a big pull in his native Canada and is slowly making progress in the States (bonus points for his favorite Cleveland memory, consisting of lending Stevie Ray Vaughan some Aqua Velva--for shaving, presumably). Here's hoping he keeps the band together long enough for some more stops. If Wilbert's ever knocks out a wall, watch out, the roof's going next.