Thursday, December 3, 2009

Billy Joe Shaver at Nashville's Exit-In

Nashville's music scene been berry, berry good to me the last 12 months or so. I've seen Robert Earl Keen, Todd Snider, Corb Lund and The Hurtin' Albertans, and Guy Clark. Tuesday night, I was able to ladle out a bit from my bucket list as I got to see Billy Joe Shaver for the first time. He didn't play the Ryman, the Nashville Arena, War Memorial Auditorium, or any other fancy place. Oh no, he instead took the stage at the famed Exit-In.

No question bars and clubs have changed - at least in the few I choose to frequent. The rowdiness is not as rowdy. The smokiness is often the result of fog machines vs. cigarettes. Many brands of beer are served in plastic long-neck bottles vs. glass ones having that distinct CLINK sound when they embrace each other in the garbage can. But the thing that hasn't changed about being in a club vs. an arena is a band's ability to be front and center with their audience, and Billy Joe seemed to really enjoy that aspect of performing.

A co-worker/friend of mine and BJS noob went with me to the show. Rather than continue to refer to her by such a long and awkward intro, I'll refer to her from here on as the Red Headed Tard Magnet (RHTM) for reasons to be explained later.

Jonny Corndawg, a local Nashville songwriter, opened the show and was quite talented and funny. He burned through a short 40 minute set, but he really had a lot of fun with the audience.

His band scalded some licks too. While the band's performance was pretty tight, their looks were quite varied. Looks ranged from a road-tested, full-bearded picker to a bald-headed, groomed bearded, Bear Bryant-fedora-sporting drummer to a chick bassist to a preppy-dressing geetar slinger who looked like he may just been picked up in the van off Vanderbilt's campus.

One of the fun yet challenging parts of listening to a band with whom you are not familiar is trying to absorb all the lyrics while filtering out all the room chatter that normally accompanies an opening act. Corndawg sang some song with the refrain "Red on the head like a tick on a dawg". Or at least that's what we thought he sang. The next few moments went something like this:
  • RHTM yelled in my ear "what did he just say?" (She's got red hair so it made sense she'd wanna know.)
  • TMC: "Was it tick on a dog?"
  • RHTM: "I couldn't tell"
  • TMC as song ends and band comes off stage to JC can do some solo singin': "So ask 'em"
  • RHTM to band member: "What was that song y'all just sang?"
  • Band member: says something to her but inaudible to me
  • RHTM turns to TMC wide-eyed and laughing: "Well, we were close. But it wasn't tick."
After his set ended, he and the rest of the band joined the audience for Billy Joe's performance. Interestingly, Jonny blogged about an interview on Tuesday that he did with Billy Joe back in the summer in Chattanooga, TN.

As Jonny's set was winding down, we had the misfortune of meeting Tard #1. He was an older feller, maybe early 60s. Drunk. Pasty white pallor. From St. Louis he told us - yet had written some sort of book about Nashville. Not sure else how to describe him other than perhaps as an older version of Kip from Napoleon Dynamite - only without the 'stache.

We were first "introduced" to Tard #1 as he tried to find the men's room. We were standing along a wall near the stage when he strolled up and started pawing at the wall. I finally asked him what he was doing, and he said he was looking for the bathroom. I told him it was up the hill - up some stairs behind the stage. For whatever reason, I reckon he was looking for some sort of hidden trap door - maybe one of those revolving kinds in fancy libraries in Scooby Doo or Young Frankenstein. A code knock on the door - shave and a haircut, two bits - and the door would spin 180 degrees putting you right in front of a urinal. Maybe, I don't know.

We were hoping that fun little encounter was the end of it, but alas it wasn't. He returned, talked to me about making a million dollars if he could just sell 80,000 copies of this book no one had heard of. Then he turned his attention to RHTM (told ya I'd get there). He bragged about drinking a beer with Billy Joe in Printers Alley years ago, spoke about BJS's chopped off fingers, and other terribly entertaining stories. From there, I turned my attention to Billy Joe's opener of Georgia on a Fast Train. For the first few songs, RHTM's head was on a swivel from listening to Tard #1, rotating back to me with a look of "HELP", back to Billy Joe on stage, back to Tard, and so on. I simply drank by PBR, enjoyed the music, and smiled wryly. Figured it was the price she had to pay as a Billy Joe rookie.

Right out of the gate, Billy Joe introduced his band members. Among them was a 15 year-old guitarist whose cheeks were as rosy as the day he was born - a razor hasn't touched them yet. I didn't catch his name or how he got to BJS's band (Tard #1 was too busy telling us another story.) The kid dressed the part, and he was a pretty good picker. Its got to be a mind-blowing experience to be 15 and playing in a club, bar, or honky-tonk with a 70 year-old songwriting legend.

On with the show. Here's your set list - with a bit of commentary throw in along the way for good measure...
  1. Georgia on a Fast Train - The thing that had me smiling from note #1 was how spry BJS still is. From Georgia to the signature ending You Just Can't Beat Jesus Christ, he pranced all around the stage.
  2. Honky Tonk Heroes - after this one, BJS pulled out his iPhone and said "Now I'll tell ya. This iPhone thang, it ain't no John Deere tractor. This thang is driving me crazy. Oh shit, its a'ringin'. Let me see - how do I turn it off?"
  3. That's What She Said Last Night
  4. Black Rose
  5. You Wouldn't Know Love (a'cappella)
  6. You Asked Me To
  7. Anti-Suicide Story > Ragged Old Truck - Right before he kicked it off, he quipped "Behind every good man stands a woman saying 'you can't do that'."
  8. Old Chunk of Coal
  9. Memories of Eddy > Star in my Heart (a'cappella) - What was remarkable about this song was the room's response. During the first few songs and for the remainder of the show, the Exit-In had a low murmur in it just as all clubs and bars do as a singer or band performs. But as Billy Joe got into the second line of this song, the whole room became noticeably silent. Everyone was focused on his never-ending love for Eddy, keeping the memory of him alive, and delivering a tough-love message to others who might be listening and having struggles of their own.
  10. Live Forever
  11. BJS then gave a couple of shout-outs folks in the crowd - including Todd Snider. I was really hoping he'd be there to join in with Good News Blues. Billy Joe called out to Todd to come up and play. The crowd roared for Todd to do just that. Billy Joe then ordered him to get up on stage. Then he asked, then pleaded, and then begged. Finally, he just gave up and asked if Todd might be out getting high. Then he moved on without him. As a result, Good News Blues wasn't performed.
  12. Hottest Thing in Town
  13. When The Word Was Thunderbird (w/drum solo) - As Jason McKenzie was banging the skins for a multi-minute drum solo, BJS slipped off to stage right to hit the head before returning for the rest of the show. When he left the stage, Tard #1 set off in pursuit. He returned a few minutes to tell RHTM "Billy Joe said he remembered us having that beer in the Alley!" Uh...yeah...sure Tard #1. I'm sure he meant it. And I'm sure every girl in a bar is the first one to have ever been told she's the purtiest one there.
  14. I've Found My Weakness In You (featuring bassist Nick Gaitan on vocals/acoustic guitar) - This was the moment RHTM and I had been waiting for. We moved to another part of the floor to break away from Tard #1.
  15. 'Til The Cows Come Home (featuring guitarist Lanky Moore on vocals and harp)
  16. Good Ol' USA
  17. Honey Bee
  18. Ride Me Down Easy - Up until this point, BJS had downed a few bottles of water. But I guess he wanted a little burst to carry him through to the end so out came a can of Red Bull. Now, I've been waiting for several years to see the legendary Billy Joe Shaver in concert. The two things I did not expect to witness from this 70 year-old Texan, however, were his use of an iPhone and wrasslin' the Red Bull. Quite amazing.
  19. Been That Way - Not sure about title for this one. He said it was a new one. - Unbelievably, during this song Tard #2 decided to make his presence known to RHTM. Again, I'm not sure the best way to describe him with words. Instead, imagine him as older version of Stork from Animal House. You know - the one who fired off to Blutarsky "So what we 'spose to do now moron?"
  20. Love Is So Sweet
  21. Tramp on Your Street
  22. Try and Try Again - this one got the old guys moshing for some reason - Tard #2 really got it rolling. Tard #3 who up until this point stood like he was wearing cement sandals came alive. Tipping the scales at probably about 280 with his cowboy hat and down vest suddenly started dancing like he had learned Blue Man Group's Rock Concert Movements - especially RCM #2 (at 1:36 mark). Then without much warning, Tards #2 and #3 start drifting in unison towards RHTM! We had to beat a hasty exit to the side of the room to avoid them - while trying to keep a lookout for the Return of Tard #1.
  23. You Can't Beat Jesus Christ closed the show as I think it does with all of his shows.
In a kind-hearted, paternal moment, Billy Joe lightly kissed each member of his band on the head as they were winding down the last part of the song. He likely does that with each show, but it was a touching moment to see. Almost 10 years have passed since Eddy Shaver's death, and I'm sure a night doesn't go by that Billy Joe doesn't visualize him still on stage with him amongst the rest of the band.

As he wound down the show, Billy Joe thanked a bunch of people - many of whom I didn't know and many whose names I couldn't understand as he mumbled them into the microphone. The best shout-out, however, was "thank you to Todd Snider for leaving early".

The show was over and done with right about midnight. With the show on a work night, it was time to head for the house. Only one problem. RHTM suggested we have one more round at a bar across the street. One more beer led to one new shot - some sort of Key Lime Pie shooter.

I made it to work on time Wednesday morning but wasn't worth a lot. I probably had no business getting those last 2 rounds. But the invitation by RHTM and my acceptance of it makes me Tard #4 I guess.

TMC

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