Bloodshot 15th Anniversary Beer-B-Q; August 30, 2009; Middle East, Boston
By all accounts the Bloodshot 15th anniversary parties thus far had all been musical successes, but that didn’t mean they weren’t running so smoothly that co-owners Rob Miller and Nan Warshaw refused my help for the Boston celebration. I had planned to visit a friend out there but when she was asked to go to Amsterdam for work I couldn’t let her say no. That meant I would be spending the day by myself, and rather than stand around feeling awkward and drinking too much I volunteered for the day. Of course one of my secret fantasies has always been to be a merch girl, especially for a show where I was passionate about the music. Unsurprisingly I sold a lot of Ha Ha Tonka CDs, no matter what folks came up to the merch stand to buy, they inevitably walked away with Novel Sounds of the Nouveaux South. Rob seemed surprised when we ran out of the Deadstring Brothers Starving Winter Report while copies of the more recent Silver Mountain remained. I wasn’t, I like that record better.
Ha Ha Tonka had played in Emporia KS the night before. I haven’t MapQuested it, but that’s a long way away from Boston MA and there’s no way they could have driven. It never occurred to me that they would fly. Even then time was tight. They would have made it if it hadn’t been for Red Sox post game traffic, and they started their set ten minutes late, apologizing sincerely several times during the set. If you hadn’t forgiven them after the first song, there’s no way you could have been holding a grudge after the rumbling harmonies of “St Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor,” and if you were then the sweetly beautiful “Close Every Valve to Your Bleeding Heart,” perhaps the best song on their remarkable new record, wasn’t going to change you mind. Me, I’d pretty much forgive them anything. This was the fifth time I’d seen them this year, and every show has left me wanting more. I love those boys, and today I loved them even more after watching them convert an entire crowd on zero to one hours of sleep.
Half the line-up was the same as I had seen in Minneapolis the week before. Tonight Bobby Bare Jr and his band of misfits known as the Young Criminal’s Starvation League ended the night in front of a dwindling crowd. Despite his always-entertaining antics more slipped out before he finished. I was a little disappointed his bizarre keyboard player from last weekend had been replaced by someone decidedly less odd. The Deadstring Brothers also pulled the old band member switcheroo, made even more obvious by the fact that the bass player tonight was female. They played a solid set but I still haven’t warmed to their newer songs or to the frequent line-up changes. In between those two was the unannounced special quest, Justin Townes Earle. He’s been a good draw at other Beer-B-Q’s but they couldn’t list his name since he had another show coming up in town.
His act seemed even more practiced than the last time I’d seen him. Dressed in a shirt that looked like a tablecloth with white suspenders holding up high-water pants that accentuated his gaunt frame, he looked even more cartoonish than usual. I’ll admit that I have warmed to his music somewhat, mostly due to extraordinary sideman Corey Younts, but I still can’t get over the feeling that I’m being bamboozled by his fake country and snake oil charm. On the other hand Charlie Pickett, who played second today, is the real deal. He was as genuinely charming onstage as he was earlier in the day as he helped me hang banners and load in merch before even introducing himself. With his band he kicked some serious ass; they were the perfect group to follow Ha Ha Tonka’s set.
Things got a little quieter when Graham Parker took the stage. He was the only act to play solo, and there was the chance that it might have been a little too mellow for the crowd that had been enjoying big cans of Rolling Rock all afternoon. Luckily, Gram has his share of rabid fans and they packed the front of the stage hanging on his every word. I didn’t find it as engaging as his in-store at Euclid Records a few years ago had been, but I’d also been drinking big cans of Rolling Rock all afternoon. I did catch the part where he said he bought the beer label button up shirt he was wearing from a homeless man on the street and it smelled funny. True or not, it was pretty funny. Someone who had been thinking about it a lot called him the English John Hiatt and I’ll agree with that assessment. He’s been releasing solid records for decades but never rose beyond cult fame. Still, Hiatt tours more than Parker and this was his only appearance on the Bloodshot train. I’m glad I got to see it.
Thanks again Bloodshot for doing what you do, and thanks for letting me help out for a day. Next time though, remind me to stay at the same hotel as you guys, I’m tired of missing the after show party.
Ha Ha Tonka
Justin Townes Earle
Bobby Bare Jr's Young Criminal Starvation League