11 November, 2008

Rock-and-roll Jesus with a Cowboy Mouth

Tonight at The Tractor Tavern, in Ballard. Cowboy Mouth. Two parts rootsy, if syrupy southern rock, 5 parts self-indulgent revival.

Many years ago, perhaps in 1998, I was told "Go see this band! Cowboy Mouth! Best show ever!" It was in Boston, at The Paradise Rock Club. So, Edna and I went to the show, though we knew almost nothing about them, except what could be learned by listening to a CD bought the day before the show. And it was a phenomenal show. Amazing energy. Incredibly long set - so long, that we actually left before the end of the show. If I recall correctly, that was because Edna was feeling very sick and had barely been able to drag herself to the show, and after about 2 hours, it was really enough, already.

Well, 10 years and at least 3 bass players, and 3 rhythm guitar players later, Cowboy Mouth is not the same band that they once were. I am sure the lineup has something to do with it. Turns out, according to Wikipedia, they're on their FIFTH bass player. The two newest members do not appear to fit in at all - an anime-like pixie female bass player, Regina, seemed like she should be playing in a Japanese power-pop band, not a southern rock band. And the new guitar player, besides looking like he is about 25 (compared to the other members, who are probably well over 40), seemed more like a Seattle grunge player (and sure enough, his "claim to fame" is playing in a Weezer tribute band - A Weezer Tribute Band??).

Bizarre line-ups aside, Cowboy Mouth is, was, and will always be Fred LeBlanc. He's the drummer, lead singer, and primary songwriter for the group. And he's the strongest musician in the band, by far. It has always been somewhat bizarre to me that the other members of the band have had various "tragic flaws" - the most notable is their middle-aged lead guitarist John Thomas Griffith, who truly has the worst tone of any guitar player in a big name band that I have ever seen. Unless he is significantly hard of hearing, there can be no justification for the shrill shredding sound he gets (and he's always had this tone that I can remember, so he must actually like it). If you're a country-ish, bluesy, rootsy rock band from Louisiana, it just doesn't seem right to have shredding sounds. And to top it off, he writes lyrics that are about the same level of literary refinement as one would expect from a 12 year old boy.

Take, for example. This song, titled "Everybody Loves Jill":

Everybody loves Jill (x2)
She's got a red heart
She wears on her red sleeve
She drinks her red wine
With her favorite red cheese

And that's why
Everybody loves Jill
Everybody loves Jill
Everybody loves Jill

She's got a red house
To go with her red clothes
She's got a red dress
That she wears with her red coat

Sometimes the whole wide world did miss her
Even the people who can't stand her

She drives a red car
Rides in her red hat
She's got a red door
Plays with her red cat
She's got a red light
That lights up her red room
She eats her red cake
With my favorite red spoon

Everybody loves Jill
Everybody loves Jill
(I love Jill)
(I know I do)
Everbody loves Jill
(I love Jill)
(I know you do)

I'm not kidding. Those are really the words. No, really.

So, back from my digression, and to the show...

We apparently missed the entire opening band (Memphis Radio Kings) because they played earlier than we thought they would. The assumption was that "doors at 9pm" does not mean "music at 9pm". It is also possible that we did *not* miss them, but that we left before them, since Cowboy Mouth played from 10-11:30pm, and we left when they finished. But I don't think the headliner would play before the opening act, because it would violate the laws of causality.

So we probably missed a good band.

There's something you should know about a Cowboy Mouth show. Fred wants you to get involved. He wants you to jump, scream, sing, hug people, high-five people, get down on the floor, scream more, clap, be glad to be alive. And he wants you to do this a lot. And he wants to tell you exactly how he wants you to do these things. And he also wants to tell you exactly what the band is going to do.

A typical Fred moment will be something like this:

"On the count of three... on the count of three... on the count of three, I am going to yell 'NOW!!!!' and John's gonna play a solo... and when I say three and John starts his solo... I want everyone in this place to make as much noise as you possibly can... I want you to forget about all of your worries... all of your problems... all of the shit that you're holding onto inside... forget about your job... your boyfriend or girlfriend who is mad at you... your stockbroker... I want you to reach deep deep inside, on the count of three, and let ALL of that come out in one giant primal scream, like you've never screamed before. And while John's playing his solo, I want every single person in this place jumping up and down and screaming and waving your arms in the air like a 5 year old at an amusement park! Are you with me? I said... ARE YOU WITH ME?!?!?!?"

That is *a* Fred moment. And the remarkable thing is that this does not occur just once during the 90 minute show. This occurs 10-15 times. And occasionally he becomes a little bit dancing on the edge of "religious".

The first 6 times I saw Cowboy Mouth, I could handle it, because the band was great, and the songs were great, and I felt like Fred was taking energy that was already there, and just squeezing it out. But the last few times, more and more, I feel like the band is not there. And the crowd is sort of just doing what they're told to do. And those who have been to the shows know that you better do what he tells you, or else he'll bring out the wireless microphone, so he can literally walk around the audience and berate people into compliance.

All that said... it was a huge turnout at The Tractor, tonight. And people were really into it. The downside was that the band didn't seem to get it, which makes John Thomas Griffith's guitar playing more annoying, and Fred's antics a bit more trying. The newer material is a bit too glossy and snappy pop-rock, and not as "rootsy" as the older stuff, and that's a disappointment.

I am glad they're still going... I guess? But it does become a little sad when a band still keeps going even though the original members are half gone, and the spirit along with it.

Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for that show tonight. The club was really hot, and there were lots of tall people, lots of fat people, and lots of smelly people. Although I should note that there were also lots of short, clean, and normal looking people too. There were just a lot of people. And in a crowded room, the tall, fat, or smelly ones pose the largest problem.

I often say, after seeing a favorite band, "I'm never going to see them again, because they're not as good as they used to be". And usually, what happens is that a year or two goes by, and I forget that I felt that way.

So I expect this time will be the same.

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