Ever since Ghost World I have trouble watching white dudes play blues without picturing Blues Hammer, the horrifying electric Down Home Delta Blues band that kicks the authentic blues singer off the stage and out of memory.
Of course they were more Kenny Wayne Shepard than Jon Spencer, but somehow that parody haunts my enjoyment of even the hairiest acoustic freak-folk or punkiest garage band that uses slide guitars and flattened fifths. So even though I enjoyed both bands on record, I went to the January 15th show at the Red and the Black prepared to be skeptical of Left Lane Cruiser and Black Diamond Heavies. Can there be anything authentic about modern honky blues-rock?
I’ll skip the suspense and just say Yes, Like Duh, Obviously. If the music is good who cares how authentic it might be? Blues Hammer is terrible because they play hackneyed over-produced and cluttered garbage, not because they have shaved chests and unbuttoned shirts. Though the guys in Left Lane Cruiser certainly didn’t look like poseurs. Lead singer and guitar player Joe Evans’ scraggly long hair and beard paired with his low-brimmed hat and baggy jeans made him look plenty familiar with the ass-ends of America. He and drummer Brenn Beck come from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and their purely primitive stomping and growling reminds me as much of early Stooges in their industrial clangclangbangbang phase as it does RL Burnside. Though they do cover a Burnside song or two, Evans sitting down on a stool and leaning way over the mike, his thumb plucking distorted bass notes and playing slide riffs with his index finger. Beck played one song with one hand while blowing a harmonica solo in the other, and used enough cowbell to kill a Saturday Night Live sketch, but essentially all their tunes blend together, though not in a bad way. I could seriously watch them play Big Momma by itself all night long over and over, though preferably I would be grinding on a BBW while listening to it. See, because, Blues is not like sex. It is sex. Most popular music is based on inserting hints of the blues into other contexts, sexing it up. There weren’t many people there that night, but when Beck stopped the song on a dime and roared “Go on drop it Joe, make these bitches bob they heads bro!” and Joe whipped out a slow funky-ass line, it clearly made everyone within earshot hot enough to hump a rusted-out tractor.
The Black Diamond Heavies are another two-piece, except John Wesley Myers plays a distorted Rhodes piano instead of a guitar and another keyboard for the bass. His voice is one of those true whiskey and cigarette creations, somehow unbelievably hoarse and wild on some songs and soulfully throaty on slower things–somewhere in between Tom Waits and Gregg Allman. Maybe it was just hangover form the high of the opening band, but their louder faster garage-meets-gospel songs could be a bit numbing when strung together. But then they played the Leon Russell-ish slow-burning soul ballad All to Hell, which ended up climaxing a lot harder live and horn-less than it does on the new record, (Every Damn Time) and I may have gotten something in my eyes by accident, just like some dust or something. And when drummer Van Campbell pumped out a mid-tempo blues beat like on Poor Brown Sugar and Myers spit out some lyrics about his car breaking down and ran through a simple blues progression that built up into a grinding pounding two-note solo while he banged his greasy long hair and howled, the Nashville boys sounded plucked from a dirty south as dangerous as any hustling/flowing Samuel Jackson movie. If only every white boy who tried to sing the blues had the taste and testicles of these two acts, we’d have a lot less bullshit to parody.