Jason & The Punknecks, The Cheatin Hearts, The Dry County Drinkers, They Who Cannot (or Won’t) Be Named — April 23rd @ The Distillery Sacramento, CA

Concert Reviews, Features, Jason & The Punknecks, The Cheatin Hearts, The Dry County Drinkers, They Who Cannot (or Won’t) Be Named — By on April 26, 2011 10:37 pm

I don’t know what the state of independent live music, dear reader, is like where you live. I’m pretty familiar, though, with the sad shape it’s in here on the West Coast. I could (and at some point I probably will) write a lengthy article in the pursuit of deciphering why audiences, pay, and respect are scarce in these parts for independent bands, but I’ll save it for another time.

I will say that adding bands to a bill that are not stage-ready isn’t helping matters; which brings me to the night’s first act. I’m not trying to be snide or amusing by referring to the first band as “They Who Cannot (or Won’t) Be Named. It’s simply that I don’t remember the band’s name. And, even if I did, I don’t want to call-out a band for practically ruining a show unless I think they did it deliberately—and I don’t think they did. However, the result was the same as if they had conspired to derail the evening before it got started.

They Who Cannot (or Won’t) Be Named was terrible, terrible, terrible! Musically, they were completely inept. I would afford them a little credit for their stab at Rodney Crowell’s “I Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This,” if their “stab’ hadn’t butchered it almost beyond recognition. Loud, distorted, and mid-range guitars, combined with the off-time bashing of the drums had people headed outside to the smoking section who didn’t even smoke to escape the caterwaul. And this after a soundcheck lasting nearly half an hour! This, of course, pushed the start of the show later, forcing the middle bands to cut songs out their set to accommodate the three hours that the four bands were supposed to divide.

Yet, it gets worse. After the delayed start and the terrible set, They Who Cannot (or Won’t) Be Named took their sweet-ass time breaking down and making way for the next band. Advice to bands just starting out: move your equipment off the stage first, then break down. Don’t do what TWCBN’s drummer did, and remove his drum heads (really!) right there on stage! I’m not even joking when I report to you that the drummer even took (what, by then, was precious) time to dust his drums! This not only made the bands uneasy, but it had the same disquieting effect on the audience. So, a weird vibe was firmly established. This kind of errant band behavior doesn’t help the cause of live music. If you wonder why people would rather just go to a karaoke bar, well, here’s one of the reasons.

It took the next band, The Dry County Drinkers, about five minutes to set up. No sound check either. They just counted off and headed straight into their first song, which—needless to say—was a drastic improvement. These Sacramento locals have only been around a year. Hard to believe as they possess a noticeable cohesion between the members, and have settled into their songs rather nicely it seems.

The DCDs are far from a spit-and-polish affair, though; there’s a loveable looseness to their playing that recalls a laid-back Crazy Horse or, dare I say, The Band. That is to say, a Rock’n’Roll vibe in a country setting—kind of like The Jayhawks or The Bottle Rockets. Really, though, they sound like none of those bands. The most accurate description I can think of is vintage Gary Stewart crossed with the Ass Ponys.

They’re rowdy, they’re dirty, and yet somehow come across as very amicable. There’s elements of Southern Rock, Cowpunk, and straight-up Honky Tonk, without leaning too heavily on one or the other. The highlight of their set is hands-down their first bon a fide anthem, ‘If You Ain’t Drunk (You’re With The Terrorists)”.  Of course, they’re half joking. But they’re only half-joking.

With the Dry County Drinkers, the crowd got a little drunker, and—thankfully—more at ease. But there were still two bands left and the clock was ticking.

Up next was The Cheatin’ Hearts. I won’t write anything about them, because its my band.

Despite the rocky start, the headliners made it on about the time they were supposed to, To the crowd’s credit, almost everybody there at the beginning of the show was still in attendance. I did notice, however, that They Who Cannot (or Won’t Be) Named had left the building. Right after their set, I think.

Nashville’s Jason & The Punknecks roared right out of the gate, led by the soaring harmonies of Jason and Polly Punkneck and accentuated by mandolin, guitar, bass, and drums. It’s customary to say of a band such as The Punknecks “This ain’t your granddaddy’s Country music.” But it is your granddaddy’s Country music—just a bit faster, louder, and more tattooed.

The Punknecks have a hideous charm. A hundred years ago you’d probably have found them traveling as a medicine show, hawking their wares with a carnival barker’s lust and glee. In today’s incarnation, they’re a band—and a damn good one—hawking their wares with a carnival barker’s lust and glee. The show business side is on full-display; the perty Ms. Polly and Jason’s rebel leer are front and center. But, more importantly, so is the music. The Punknecks are no mere gimmick. Even when they’re covering Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page,” and outlaw sincerity shines through that’s just as alluring as their stage show getup.

This is the American underground. Sure, the underground of street kids, cons, and punks, but also the bygone underground of Bonnie & Clyde, John Dillinger, Kerouac and Cassidy—the lineage of hard livin’, hard travelin’ and hard times that will always be a part of this country and it’s music. It’s too bad people here on the West Coast have their heads turned more often than not when one of these circuses rolls through town, because they’re not just missing great shows, they’re overlooking a part of themselves.


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