Thursday, June 18, 2009

Patterson Hood & the Screwtopians/Will Johnson; June 18, 2009; Mercy Lounge, Nashville

I always figured my first trip to Nashville would be for a show at the Exit/In. In a city known for slick, radio-ready country, the Exit/In is the rock venue where most of the bands that I like play. Instead the Drive By Truckers’ Patterson Hood was kicking off his tour for his solo CD Killing Oscar with the Screwtopians at the Mercy Lounge. Nashville resident Will Kimbrough had assured us it was a cool venue, but we weren’t so sure when we turned up the shadowy Cannery Row, a block long street right on the tracks with empty warehouses on both sides.

As it turns out, Kimbrough was right, just not in the most traditional sense in the word. The well-named new venue had a good sized stage with a large dance floor area in front, while tall tables were scattered over raised platforms on either side. The red curtains behind the stage glowed like fire under the lights. Now, you would assume that in the south every place, especially music venues, would have extremely efficient air conditioning. As we found out repeatedly, that assumption would turn out to be wrong. Admittedly, the sticky, barely moving air turned out to be a perfect metaphor for Patterson’s new songs.

While the Drive By Truckers specialize in hard-charging Southern style rock, Patterson’s solo material has drifted toward the melancholy and forlorn. Turns out the bulk of Killing Oscar was written years ago back in 1994, before the Truckers really got going. He had recently rediscovered the songs and decided they were worth recording. So he got together an all-star band, most of whom became the Screwtopians (whatever that means). There’s more than a hint of Centromatic’s lonesome sound on the record thanks to that band’s lead singer Will Johnson and multi-instrumentalist Scott Danborm having a hand in the recording. Tonight Will played a slow as molasses opening set accompanied by Danborm that, pretty as it was, made Patterson’s set sound like a hoe-down.

In the past his solo shows I’ve seen have been just that. Patterson with an acoustic guitar playing songs from his first solo release, Killers and Stars, as well a handful of his favorite (or the audience’s favorite) Truckers songs. Tonight’s show kept exclusively to those two CDs. I missed “Sinkhole” of course, but those songs would have seemed out of place alongside these deeply personal songs. Keeping those he had written for his daughter, “Pollyanna” and “Pride of the Yankees,” separate from his other band almost seems a necessity. The cynical “Uncle Disney” and the sad “Pay No Attention to Alice” (a Tom T Hall cover) were tonight’s highlights from his first record, while “I Understand Now” may have been my favorite from the new one (which saw its official release five days after the show).

The Truckers weren’t completely forgotten, of course. Many of them played on the record, and drummer Brad Morgan along with guitarist/pedal steel play John Neff are touring Screwtopians. As much as I love the Truckers, it was nice to see Patterson doing his own thing.

this picture has not been tampered with

fancy towel origami at the Holiday Inn

Will Johnson

Patterson Hood & the Screwtopians

Cupcakes from Gigi's

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