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Jason and the Scorchers, The Garage, Islington, May 8th 2010

May 11, 2010

All of 27 years ago, despite the triumph of the synth bands and back-combed boys and girls, there were a few promising signs in the world of music – REM, the Dream Syndicate, Green On Red and Hüsker Dü were all on my radar. Then I heard a phenomenal song on the radio – a thrilling cover of Dylan’s Absolutely Sweet Marie – but in the pre-Internet days, I didn’t find out who recorded it until I asked at a record shop a week or so later. That was when I first heard of Jason and the Scorchers, the finest cowpunk countrybilly band to come out of Nashville.

Evergreen front-man Jason Ringenberg has often toured solo, more recently as kids’ entertainer ‘Farmer Jason’ with the marvellous zoological songs Ode To A Toad, Moose On The Loose and the immortal Punk Rock Skunk. But his first love is the band, Jason and the Scorchers, and its excellent country-rock guitarist since the early days, Warner E Hodges. The phrase ‘country-rock’ usually brings to mind Gram Parsons et al, but Hodges is genuinely a mix of country music (both his parents were Nashville country musicians) and hard rock (he was a huge fan of AC/DC and Kiss). Jason, meanwhile, was always a lover of punk, but yearned for more. As he said in 1983, he wanted his band to sound ‘like a religious service, only a lot dirtier…’ and back then they made a pretty good job of it, so I’d been looking forward to this gig for a while.

Support band The Whybirds, from Bedford, were solid enough rockers, with elements of Rainbow, Rory Gallagher and even the Only Ones, and did themselves no harm to my ears by including a rather fine cover of Neil Young’s F*!#in’ Up.

After The Suit, Pugnacious D and I had recharged our glasses, Jason and the band roared on stage. They got ‘the hit’ out of the way after just three songs (which had included oldie Shop It Around and catchy new number Mona Lee) to set up an evening of hard-driving country punkabilly. Jason was wearing his trademark shiny cowboy hat and a really rather extraordinary silver frill shirt, about which he quipped, ‘You can’t always sound good but you can always look good…’ His inter-song banter is spot on and he doesn’t overdo the flogging of the new album, Halcyon Times, even though we get to hear most of the songs off it this evening, including Land Of The Free, Beat On The Mountain, Twang Town Blues, Mother Of Greed, We’ve Got It Goin’ On and Deep Holy Water.

Remarkably, all the new songs stand up very well against the oldies and goodies, and there’s more than an element of social commentary to them. In fact, there’s a clear link between this hopped-up country-rock and some of the better London bands of the 80s such as The Men They Couldn’t Hang and The Pogues, where the ‘folk’ element corresponds almost exactly to American ‘country’.

Then there was a break from the whole band as just Jason and Warner took the limelight. Jason introduced the scary song he co-wrote with Steve Earle, A Bible And A Gun:
Now I hear her whisper soft and low
Through every mile I run,
As I travel through this world of woe
With a Bible and a gun.

Then we had Jason’s joke (‘What’s the difference between a puppy and a singer-songwriter? A puppy eventually stops whining…’) followed by a fine bit of country yodelling on Pray For Me Mama (I’m A Gypsy Now). When the rest of the band returned, the evening rocked to a finale brilliantly with McGuinn’s and Parsons’ Drugstore Truck Drivin’ Man, new number Deep Holy Water (with its nod to Southern religious gothic author Flannery O’Connor) and 1984’s Broken Whiskey Glass. Next was my unexpected highlight of the night, new song Moonshine Guy, a speedy punky rock ‘n’ roll number with great lyrics:
He yells and he roars,
Loves the Stones, hates the Doors,
Thinks the Beatles sing for girls,
He’s a moonshine guy in a six-pack world.

As an evening it was just so much fun as well as rockin’. The final encore was the mighty White Lies, released just a year after Absolutely Sweet Marie:

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