The Waco Brothers/Semi Twang; September 10, 2011; The Frequency
The Bloodshot Records site announced tonight’s show at the Frequency as “a rare non-Chicago appearance!” And it’s true, while the group does play it’s home city frequently, for example they had played the night before and were playing again next Saturday, I’ve barely seen them outside of SXSW. In fact, if memory serves, not counting the Bloodshot Beer-B-Que in 2009 which featured a full line-up of Bloodshot artists, the last time they had played Madison it was at O’Cayz Corral. The show did seem somewhat of an afterthought, and was only announced a few weeks before. What they hadn’t considered was that it was a football weekend and the Iron Man was running the next day- there wasn’t a hotel room to be found. That’s the story of how I had three-fifths of the Waco Brothers spend the night. But that’s another story.
Openers Semi Twang line up like a parallel universe Waco Brothers, five middle aged men, four microphones and a bald bass player. Except, sadly, it’s a more boring universe where all the songs sound the same and there’s much less kicking. I know that the band leader Milwaukeean John Sieger is a much lauded musician around these parts, but I just don’t get it. Their set seemed overly long, but it probably wasn’t.
Despite the fact that I see them twice a year at SXSW for Bloodshot’s Yard Dog day party and their Saturday night showcase, I don’t feel like I have actually seen the Wacos in forever. After all, as Bloodshot’s most enthusiastic volunteer, I spend most of my time at these shows working the merch table, talking unsuspecting folks into Ha Ha Tonka CDs for their own good. So it was nice to be able to stand right in front of the band and actually watch the show, and what a show it was. It’s hard to imagine five people having more fun. Three vocalists keep it interesting. Jon Langford is of course my favorite, and I am a huge fan of everything he does. OK, well maybe not the “sexy” dancing he was doing tonight, but most everything else. His Welsh accent is even more pronounced when he sings and his songs are the ones that stick in my head. It’s no coincidence that the two Langford prints I have hanging proudly on my wall are based on Wacos’ songs, and one of them “The Death of Country Music” may be my favorite of their tunes. Not to say this was the first time I saw it, but this was the first time I noticed his awesome blue Airline guitar. It’s one of my favorite guitar brands and an uncommon one, the only other two I’ve seen were played by the guy from the Comas and Joey Burns of Calexico.
The rest of the songs are handled by Milwaukee native Dean Schlabowske and mandolinist Tracy Dear. If it seems a bit odd to have a mandolin in a country rock band, the Wacos don’t seem to care. “He’s very secure in his manhood,” Langford pointed out referring to the tiny instrument, “there’s a reason I have to have this big guitar, and Alan has that,” he claimed pointing to bass player Alan Doughty’s instrument. Even so, Dear, who’s also known as the World’s Greatest Living Englishman, did sing the silliest song of the night, a singalong about tiddly winks or something. For a change, it’s the one that’s been stuck in my head ever since. “That guy should be the bass player in every band,” a musician friend of mine said, gesturing toward Doughty . Agreed. Far from the typical standing still stereotype, Doughty was all over the tiny stage, most every picture I took of him was a blur.
The Waco Brothers excel at the well chosen cover. George Jones’ classic “White Lightning” and an enthusiastic version of “I Fought the Law” are all part of their usual set. Not that there is anything usual about their choreography. I never remember exactly which song (or songs) the synchronized kicks are a part of, but it is always awesome. It seems odd that this collection of locals and British ex-pats would be the most entertaining country rock band on the planet, but once you’ve seen them, it doesn’t seem that odd at all.