Thursday, January 19, 2012

CONCERT REVIEW: Discovering Jason & The Scorchers

This started out as a simple concert review, but evolved into something much more (obviously)...a description of my discovery of a band I'd always wanted to check out and that I fell wholeheartedly in love with when I did...

Very special thanks to Duane Clawson for sharing his great photos from the concert!
(Contact Duane Clawson at Duanec25@att.net or visit him online at www.musicviews.org)

ST. LOUIS - JANUARY 13, 2012

Throughout life, events take place that forever divide time. The birth of my daughter, for instance, divided time between my never having been, and then forever being, a father.

Last Friday night served as another of those time-splitting occasions. A new existence now lies before me, as someone who has experienced the legendary Jason and the Scorchers live in concert. Lord, I know I’ve been changed. And I shall never be the same again.


For a good portion of my life I had heard of Jason and the Scorchers. As I got into the music that I now enjoy (what I, on Dirty Roots Radio, affectionately call “renegade country, vintage gospel, raw blues, greasy soul, punk, and funk”), I frequently heard the name Jason and the Scorchers bandied about as forbearers of those sounds. Fellow fans of this types of “roots music” mixed with more modern and aggressive sounds held Jason and the Scorchers in high regard. They’d started it all, I heard. They played music too country for rock and too rock for country.

They didn’t fit anywhere. But…They invented cow-punk. They invented roots rock. They paved the way for alternative country and Americana.

Jason and the Scorchers went on the list of music that I planned to check out as soon as possible. I spend my life continually hammering away at that list. Sometimes I make progress on it. Sometimes I add new names to explore faster than I can explore the names already on the list. When I dig into the artists and groups on the list, sometimes they change my life. More often than not, they don’t live up to the years of hype that I’ve read/heard about them.

Jason and the Scorchers (JATS) came up time and time again. I’d check out some of their music when I had the chance; usually a stray track here or there. But never with the dedication had I intended to devote to the exploration of this legendary band. I’ve learned not to force that kind of thing. It’s best to let these discoveries happen naturally.


So I never pushed it. But I wanted to find out what made JATS so legendary. I liked the songs and snippets of albums that I heard. But they didn’t change my world. I consistently heard that while JATS made good albums, you truly had to experience them live to really appreciate them.

When I saw the notice for the JATS show at Off Broadway in St. Louis (the best place to see live music in the Lou), I knew I had to get there. I also contacted the band’s management and set up an interview with frontman Jason Ringenberg. Just before the show, their road manager informed me that Jason had a cold and needed to save his voice, but I could talk to founding member Warner E. Hodges.

Our brief interview went really well and I truly enjoyed visiting with the very, animated, warm, and likeable Hodges. He told me to drop by after the show and introduce myself.

When I arrived at Off Broadway, the show opener – Brian Henneman, of one of my favorite bands, the Bottle Rockets – had already taken the stage. Henneman played the Bottle Rockets classic “I’ll Be Coming Around” as I walked in. In hindsight, that selection fit the occasion perfectly; when I first saw Steve Earle in concert, he played a cover of that song and called the Bottle Rockets out to sing background vocals. That event officially cemented my love for Steve Earle and first introduced me to the Bottle Rockets. And now that song again was playing a part in the introduction to one of my new favorite bands.


Henneman played a solid solo show with his trusty sunburst-colored Rickenbacker guitar and a buddy backing him up on acoustic. The set featured several well known Bottle Rockets tracks, as well as deeper album cuts. As he ended the show with “Welfare Music”, the audience gathered at the foot of the stage began collectively stomping their feet on the hardwood dance floor. Just enough people had gathered in just the right configuration to produce a powerful sound. Henneman expressed genuine delight as he pointed out that the noise “sounded like a kick drum”. It proved one of those beautiful spontaneous moments when a performer is immersed in something unexpected and joyful, in solidarity with their audience.

As I entered the venue during Henneman’s set, I recognized Jason Ringenberg in the audience, sitting in a folding chair against a far wall, dressed in part of his stage getup and a John Deere trucker hat. The lanky man had his head tilted back, enjoying the music, with a sublime half-grin on his face. A little later, I spotted Warner Hodges leaned up against the bar. Both men casually and happily greeted fans who came by to visit with them. Neither appeared standoffish in the least. They obviously felt comfortable walking amongst their fans. I felt like I’d found the right place.


At one point during Henneman’s opening set, Hodges –dressed to the nines in his country/rock star best (tight jeans, boots, scarf, vest, and shiny sport coat) – walked just behind me and I could swear I heard what sounded like…no, it couldn’t be…holy, holy…DOES HE HAVE ON SPURS? Yup. Spurs on his boots, I said! Now I knew I’d found the right place.


Jason and the Scorchers took the stage to the overwhelming delight of the audience, a mixed-bag of younger and older, biker and country, rocker and refined, etc. I love audiences like that. They had no differences among them Friday night, though; they had all come to worship at the altar of their favorite band.

Throughout their set, Jason and Warner interacted with the crowd; sharing a few inside jokes, talking about places they’d met before – usually at now-defunct watering holes – scattered around the country through the band’s 30-year career, even calling out several people in the audience by name and telling stories on them. These folks had obviously spent lots of time together through the years.

I, a novice, surrendered to the experience, just like the lifelong fans. Unfortunately, I had stupidly opted to leave the sweat rag that I take to most concerts with me in the car that night. I sure needed it.


JATS whipped the audience into a frenzy that lasted all night. It obviously would have been amazing (and I never use that word lightly) to have seen these guys in their early 20s when they were just starting out, hungry and full of youthful energy. But I can’t figure age has slowed them down much. They gave it their all. Who would have guessed that Jason continually flipping his extra-long microphone cord in a whirling arc over the bands’ heads could look as cool as it did? And Warner not only looked the part of a full-on country rock star, he had all the moves of one, too. This man KILLED on the guitar. When Jason introduced the band, he called Hodges the finest country/rock guitar player alive and he nailed that description. In his own words, “That’s not hype that’s God’s honest truth.”


Hodges went through all of the guitar hero moves that would make anyone else look cheesy, complete with the facial expressions that would likewise diminish anyone else’s performance. Those animated gestures/expressions fit him perfectly. And if any other guitarist that I watched for two hours spun his guitar over his shoulder and around his back, only to catch it at the perfect moment and resume his solo as many times Warner did, I’d throw something at the stage. He did it at least eight times Friday and I giggled like an excited little kid every single time.

Several times during all the histrionics I studied their faces. JATS consists of two non-original members (Pontus Snibb on drums – a “good southern boy from Southern Amsterdam” as Jason described him, and Al Collins on bass) and original members Hodges and Ringenberg. Snibb and Collins did mighty awesome…but you could just see “IT” in the faces of Jason and Warner. And when I say “IT” I mean that look in their eyes. That flash of brilliance. The flash of inspiration…of fun. The look of willingness to try anything that serious rockers used to have in their eyes and the scary-as-hell look that hillbilly preachers and vintage country singers had in theirs. The look that said they were laying it all out there These F’ers were crazy!!


And we all loved it.

Partway through the show, Jason called up a special guest, Stacie Collins, wife of JATS bass player, Al Collins, to perform a few songs. I worried at first; I haven’t had the best experiences when bands bring up someone totally unrelated to just take over for a few numbers. But she brought the house down. I daresay it had something to do with the fact that she, too, had that same wild look in her eyes.


I WANNA PARTY WITH THESE PEOPLE!!

So it went for almost two hours. Fan favorites. Great new songs off their latest album. A brand new song. Stories. Jokes. I felt like I had come home. Everything I had heard about JATS proved true; they pretty much invented the music I love. That’s not hyperbole; they brought the whole thing together. You could hear punk, classic rock, metal, country, and everything else there. No one does it like this.

Just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any better – that I had reached roots-rock Nirvana – they called up Brian Henneman for a jam session. Prior to this, Henneman looked genuinely humbled as an audience member, when Jason Ringenberg called the Bottle Rockets’ “I’ll Be Coming Around” his favorite song of the 90’s and their “The Brooklyn Side” his favorite album from the 90’s.

Henneman ain’t no slouch as a country rocker and he held his own with Warner, sparks flying every which way, trading solos back and forth.


Before we could catch our breath, Jason called up the great singer/songwriter Todd Snider – who had just finished up his own show elsewhere in St. Louis – to join them, and Henneman, on surely the most rockin’ version of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road” ever performed.


I hate that song. Even Toots & the Maytalls couldn’t save it when they covered it. But JATS made all things right again. It was one of those moments that you will yourself to remember, knowing that you’re witnessing something incredibly special.

At the conclusion of that song, I ran backstage to introduce myself to Warner and he welcomed me graciously. He quickly told me they needed to go back out for another encore, and asked me to stick around.


Once the show ended, I headed back to talk to Warner again. He told me he enjoyed the interview we did earlier and thanked me for my support.

Artists with basic decency typically say that kind of thing to folks like me. The sentiment usually isn’t genuine; I understand that and I don’t fault them for it – they meet more people than they can keep track of on tour, do a ton of interviews, and it’s just part of their job. I mistakenly took Warner’s comments that way. A lot of people were waiting to talk to Warner, so I scooted out of the way as quickly as I could. Warner sensed it, and grabbed my hand, pulled me back, looked me in the face, and said it all again, so I could see that he meant it genuinely. He remembered from our conversation that I hadn’t seen JATS live before that and he asked if I had a good time.

It may not sound like much, but that’s a rare thing for an artist to go that far out of their way to have a “genuine” exchange with a radio guy/journalist. And it says a ton about that artist. You can tell who truly appreciates the support you’re trying to give them, and Warner did.

As I left Off Broadway, Jason Ringenberg made his way back in to meet his fans. As I passed him, I said the only thing I could muster: “Thank you!”


As I walked out the door, I heard Warner talking with some fans about a bar they used to play in Champaign, IL. One night Jason dangled from the chandelier in the middle of the room and tore it down. They had to pay for it, of course, and the damages cost a lot more than their paycheck amounted to that night.

I’ve had a lot of concert experiences. I’ve seen Social Distortion, my favorite band for my whole life, about six times. I’ve seen Tom Waits, another of my very favorite artists, in one of his extremely rare live appearances. I saw the great Leonard Cohen in a concert experience that I can only describe as “Biblically profound.” I’ve seen the Bottle Rockets, my favorite local band, a number of times, including one where Brian Henneman jammed with the legendary Eric “Roscoe” Ambel on a note-for-note cover of Neil Young’s classic “Down By the River”. Some magical moments. And I’ve been blessed to meet, interview, and sometimes hang out with many of the artists I love.

Like Jason Ringenberg, I was born with a gift for hype. I tend to retell these kinds of experiences with a touch that hype.

But I’m throwing down the gauntlet. Last Friday night, with Jason and the Scorchers, is my favorite concert experience. Ever. For so many reasons.


If you haven’t already, check them out.

If they come around your neck of the woods, do yourself a favor and go check them out. You want to support these guys with your hard-earned money. They deserve it.

And the world’s a better place for them doing what they do, still out on the road, hard at it thirty years later.

Rock ‘n’ Roll!


***Once again, a very special thanks to Duane Clawson for sharing all of his great pictures from the event!

Duane Clawson: Duanec25@att.net
www.musicviews.org

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Ryan Mifflin is the host of Dirty Roots Radio, a "Quentin Tarantino-ization of a spaghetti western style old-school record show" featuring renegade country, vintage gospel, raw blues, greasy soul, punk, and funk. Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.


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