Monday, November 22, 2010

Corb Lund at Exit-In

About five or six years ago, I saw a relatively unknown artist named Hayes Carll open for Todd Snider at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville. His witty lyrics, soulful sound, and Steven Wright-ish deadpan joke delivery made me a fan.

A few months later, I got a recording of Hayes from his show at the Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, TX. On the recording, he mentioned being on tour at the time with Corb Lund and The Hurtin' Albertans. At first, I thought it was another one of his jokes - that is until I sought and found Corb's own Cheatham Street recording. From the time I first heard Five Dollar Bill (video), I became a fan of Corb's as well.

Last Monday night was my third time to see Corb and the band - all at different Nashville venues. This time it was the legendary Exit-In hosting the boys. The band has been doing several U.S. dates opening for Jason Boland. But with Boland taking the evening off, they traveled to Nashville for a headliner show.

The show was billed as starting at 9PM. As anyone knows who has seen a show at the Exit-In (or most clubs for that matter), the starting time is merely a suggestion. The opening band generally begins at least a half-hour after the announced time with the headliner taking the stage at least an hour after that. So I figured I had plenty of time to arrive.

I parked around 9:20, but as I approached the front door the sound I heard was unexpected. I figured I might hear house music or maybe an unannounced opening act. Instead, it was clearly Corb's vocals of Chinook Wind. I'd missed the start!

The only thing I can figure is the show started on time because it was a Monday night. Folks had just come off the weekend, and the rest of the work week loomed. So perhaps it was a matter of just get on with it.

Again, perhaps because it was Monday, Nashville stayed away in droves. (Or maybe it was because Corb isn't Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, or any of the other Music Row hacks.) The Exit-In has a big concrete slab floor in front of the stage where folks normally gather. Instead, it was empty - completely. Some stood by the door. A few folks stood to the margins of the building as if they were prepared to beat a hasty retreat during the night. A few more headed to the balcony loft. And a handful of others sat at the few hightops in the back of the club. Once the show began, I guess no one wanted to be that guy to be the only one on the floor so the show proceeded with no one within 20 feet of the edge of the stage.

A trio of girls standing near me chatted constantly during the show. I have absolutely no idea why folks like that bother to show up to hear bands. I get comparing notes, guys and gals trading phone numbers, drinks being ordered, folks asking what did he just say?, etc. But to have a run-of- the-mill conversation like you are at lunch at Panera, that's too much for the rest of us who actually want to hear the band. Yet when Corb asked if anyone in the audience was from Alberta, sure enough these clowns had to rip off a big WHOOOOOO! YEAAAAAAH! At least you embarrassed yourselves and Alberta vs. being a Nashville local.

As usual, Grant Siemens was exceptional. Unlike the previous two times I'd seen the band, he didn't bring as many guitars. But he did play his electric guitar, a pedal steel, and a mandolin - all seemingly without effort. A true talent.

Near the end of the set, the band played Seven Spanish Angels. It wasn't a complete surprise, as I'd read elsewhere the song has been included in the set list over the last couple of years. Yet, it was cool to hear such as wonderful song. I first heard it when Ray Charles and Willie Nelson did a duet of it on Charles' Friendship LP in the mid 80s.

With the lackluster attendance, Corb seemed to perfunctorily proceed through the set without many breaks or engagement with the limited audience that was present.Don't get me wrong - the set list included many great tracks from their most recent four releases as well as a couple of new tracks. And I certainly don't blame the band for gettin' on with it. If the vibe isn't there, just do your job, entertain those that are there, collect the check, and load up for the next gig.

As is the norm, the band closed with Time To Switch To Whiskey (We've Been Drinking Beer All Night). Corb, bassist Kurt Ciesla, and drummer Brady Valgardson had been drinking PBR during the show. Once they said we'd like to close our show with..., someone bought a round for the boys and shots of whiskey were placed near the front of the stage. (Look carefully and you can see them in the photo below.) Corb seemed happy at the gesture, and each band member took their shot after a solo moment during the song.

After a three-song encore, the show ended and the Exit-In emptied almost immediately. I stuck around a bit and chatted with Brady about his drum kit, met a guy who has patented a collapsible upright bass to help with packing and travel (Kurt was playing one of them), got a free CD from the guy's singer-songwriter wife as he was talking to Kurt, and connected with Corb by letting him know I was "toomuchcountry" who helped promote the show on Twitter. He knew I'd done so and thanked me.

Set List:

...joined in progress. what did I miss?...
Chinook Wind
Losin' Lately Gambler
Devil's Best Dress
Big Butch Bass Bull Fiddle
Its Hard to Keep a White Shirt Clean
Alberta Says Hello
This Is My Prairie
I Want To Be in the Calvary
Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier
Drink It Like You Mean It - A new song with Grant Siemens on pedal steel guitar. Corb said the song was about "drinking with integrity".
Five Dollar Bill
The Oil's Back In Town - A big hockey fan, Corb said he wrote the song and pitched it to the Edmonton Oilers team. He talking them into letting him perform it and had visions of free tickets. But after performing it, the Oilers went on an extended losing streak so that was the end of that.

Hair in my Eyes Like a Highland Steer
Buckin' Horse Rider
The Truth Comes Out - Kurt Ciesla's bass intro is artistically haunting. This video from a 2009 performance gives you some idea. But you really have to hear his larger, richer bass echo the low notes to truly appreciate his contribution to the song. As Corb says when he introduces Kurt on the bottom, we got him.

R-E-G-R-E-T (MP3 from a September 2010 show in Luckenbach, TX)
Little Foothills Heaven
The Horse I Rode In On
Seven Spanish Angels
Rye Whiskey/Time To Switch to Whiskey

Long Gone to Saskatchewan - I was trying to take show notes with pen and paper. You have any idea how hard it is to chicken-scratch Saskatchewan in the dark?
Heavy and Leaving
Gonna Shine Up My Boots



  1. I hate it when shows are empty. People suck. Scott Miller had about 10 people at his show a few months ago here in Toronto. Literally, 10 people. I counted. Same thing when I saw Chris Knight a few years ago, and this was a Saturday night. Brutal. The first time Ha Ha Tonka came through Toronto I was the only person there. Seriously. I just hung out with them and bought them beer until someone made them take the stage 45 min late. By then there were 12 people or so - and the gig was free! I can't wait until Ha Ha Tonka is super famous so I can tell people I saw them when...

  2. That's a real shame. I thought Corby was making inroads in the U.S. What was the attendance, 100, 200?

  3. @Anon Nov22: I'm not the best at crowd estimates and didn't a full view of how many were in the loft area. But I'd guess no more than 100-150 tops. It was waaay too easy to get a beer from the bar. No line and the bartender could hear me easily.