Elsah + The Bowmans + Lowry
Live at the Red Star, Baton Rouge, LA
I've spent the last decade of my life half in the false vampiric (you think it takes but, in fact, you give give give) night world of bars and the confessions people blurt out; and half in the truly vampiric corporate work world where life is sucked out of you according in to a well contemplated plan, conceived at a pampered offsite retreat, where the atoms of your creative being are fed into pie charts and Gant charts and bar graphs and decisions are made on , what I suspect is, largely a whim. And, truth be told, I wasn't all that great at my existence in the latter. I would pull myself up and try to be a Good Corporate Citizen because after all, it pays much better than being People's Poet, hollering vindictive from high atop the mountain, and there are families to support and babies to feed and oil changes to be had done at the appointed intervals, and so on ad obligatum. But ultimately, I was half assed at best in that world of cubicles and business needs. I got by on creativity and personality, but ultimately it's a game of pegs and holes and is best played by those who see the world as pegs and holes and understand that, even if it takes all of your might, you gotta get that goddamn peg in the goddamn hole. Maybe I'm simplifying things going through the Stage of Loss that is Bitterness; I got fired from my corporate day job, one in secession of firings or near firings. And while I realize that the corporate life is essentially evil, I cannot argue with its effectiveness. It's a base physical law: when you squeeze on a volume and there is an outlet, its contents shoot forth. That is correct: toothpaste is a perfect metaphor for the Modern Working Condition.
So, now I am freed from the yoke of Business and have, through a lot of the same creativity and personality that kept me afloat before a position as a Professional Writer. And the key thing any writer needs, besides Microsoft Word and coffee, is stories and tonight I relearned that every night is filled with stories, turgid on the vine for the taking. Tonight's episode involves two separate Kims and their man troubles relayed to me on the same patio, an informal introduction to my favorite local barista Josie (major in Poli Sci, independent study in Welfare Systems; hobbies include reading, piano and photography; rather tall, bookish and skim, reminding me of someone I had a torrid weekend with over a decade ago; but honestly she became noteworthy when she use the mandatory banter session Starbucks requires to ask me what my favorite book is (my pretentious but honest choice: One Hundred Years of Solitude - I remember running out into the yard when those fucking locusts came and ate up all of time and creation and reduced the universe into a raw nub - such is the theatrical passions of a Reader in His Twenties)0 a nondescript Betty Page Cut gal and a killer rendition of the Uncle Tupelo rendition of "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down" by local roots rock outfit Elsah that lasted probably 20 minutes and was murderously brilliant, like what the live incarnations of "Sister Ray" must have been like.
My night began innocently enough with an SEC basketball game where LSU and Tennessee played a ridiculously thug-ass game of fouls and turnovers that my usual runnin' partner Lance brought me to. LSU won, largely do to the efforts by the abomination of nature that is Glen "Big baby" Davis, poetically bearing a zero on his jersey. Lance was succumbing to heartburn, so I was left to venture into my first night out as a non-corporate soul alone to see friends and neighbors making up Elsah play with some friends from NYC hat had hosted them during one of those marathon industry showcase things they have up there.
First up on my night were the Bowmans, twin sisters that work the Sidewalk Caf?© neo/anti-folk scene in the Biggest City in the United States. Once there got the monitor situations settled, they weaved their dulcet eerie twin logic, taking form of guitar and voices, through the uncooperative noisy crowd. Too bad for us that actually like music, because the beams of sunshine that did manage to shine though the dull racket of re-hashed cell phone conversations was glorious, Like the Be Good Tanyas (a particular fave of mine) but simpler, more concentrated.
The twins' self-released CD Far from Home (A request to folk musicians: quit naming your albums "X From/To/At Home." This is the second I've heard in a week, but anyways) is a delightful folky romp revolving around that freaky twin telepathy that allows them to intertwine their Tin Pan Alley meets MacDougal Street shtick with shocking intricacy. My promo copy unfortunately came without a track listing, but really its no matter, the songs mostly glow into a loping majestic grove, cradling your ears in their harmonies. It sounds like a lot of folk music, but a notch warmer, a bit more intimate. My favorite is approximately called "The Best Day I Can Remember" which has a very similar lilt to the slow and perfect Smiths songs, Queen is Dead era, except with two foxy women who can sing better than Morrissey thinks he can. And really, what can top that? Go see them should they wash through your town and fall all in love and shit with them and buy this CD from them. Turn your affections into gas money for the girls.
Next up, the Bowmans augmented/ transmogrified into the backing band for Lowry, beau of one of the Bowmans, and captivating singer-songwriter in his own right. The immediate comparison that came to mind was Damon Gough of/aka Badly Drawn Boy; partially in scruffy appearance and partly in the command he had over his scrappy muse. His playing and singing were neither stellar in a technical sense, but you got the drift that he Believes, and though the content of his live version was increasing obscured by personal whisky and external machinations, he was a compelling performer with significant gravitational pull.
His CD Awful Joy is a sprawling epic of home studio dynamics and drunken self-immolation by the fires of ego and lust. His vocal delivery is beyond direct, he barely sings, he more intones his pleas of "Please Love Me" throughout the record. And I mean all this all in the best possible light. His songs arc like a bird in flight at the chorus, coming back down to the ground in the verse. Similarities can be found in other self-loathing romantics like Ryan Adams and the eels, but our boy shows remarkable restraint on the record. My favorite track is the pre-synthesizer Leonard Cohen-like "Fourth of July" which builds layer by layer like a pyramid, the sun coming out in a blaze when he scales the top, banjos and strings and drums swirling around like demons from the Arc of the Covenant. And while he demonstrates a deft hand with multi-instrumentation and studio texturing, much of the record is a blur of "pretty good" until he comes back down to bottom soil no the guitar and harmonica driven "Arkansas." I'm not a die-hard less-is-more guy, but I'll take any artist at their purest anyday. Gary Numan is most pure in avaccuum with his disco beats, and Lowry is doing the young Dylan thing.
Somewhere in here, the first of two Kims came into play in the patio of what is becoming my de facto watering hole. They have a scatter of orange couches out on the patio in the back, and Kim I was sitting alone on one of them, and she looked pretty ridiculous sitting there alone in this most social a stage, and she seemed to think so too, so I yelled at her "If you would only be nicer once in a while, you might have some friends." She replied "Fuck you, I had friends and they just ordered more drinks on my credit card and left me out here. " I was dispatched to fetch the sole friend Scott, a painter with tell-tale paint on his clothes (oh, you) and he told me to fetch her, and so on. I saw Scott leave in a huff later that evening, and Kim I take off her jacket and enjoy the rest of the show, so I'm guessing she got her credit card back and he is embarking right now on a palette knife and splatter series of "Kim Paintings" back at his studio, getting even more paint on his clothes because he doesn't even fucking care anyway (oh, double you)
Fortunately Elsah took the floor and pounded out close to an hour of devastating country/rock/roots mayhem: twang and death and chords and all the things right in the world. The kind of rock music that makes the women foxier, the drinks stronger. Up to them I was unfamiliar with their back catalog, so I only recognized the covers at the end: a rousing rave-up of "Folsom Prison Blues" and a psychobilly freakout on "Satan, Your Kingdome Must Come Down" that went on for 20 minutes but could have kept going in my opinion. Three guitarists, bass and drums, tear-ass down a highway to oblivion to be found in a re-rehashed folk number. For real, this was one of the more transcendent moments I've had at a show. Perhaps I was at just the right stage of inebriation and up-my-own-assedness, but this kind of breakdown was the kind of thing I envision myself pulling on stage one day, should I ever reach the level of having talent I can forgoe to get there. Toward the end of it, the singer was dissolved into a rolling-eye chant, the guitarists had wandered off into their own sectors of the cosmos, and I'm not sure if the drummer was even there anymore, but it was glorious.
On their self titled EP they offer a more controlled affair, and where singer Neil Werries live had a wired Tom Petty thing going, he's got more of a Stan Ridgway twang going on record. In fact, the Wall of Voodoo man's solo albums are a good description of this album: solid songs, western via alternative rock guitar: songs that are epics in themselves. "Red Wine" is a killer song, rocking like that one big song by Dramamrama without being as corny. "Transformer" is a loud stormy number, echoing like the Cars on downers in a cistern, or something like that. "Morgan County" will make you long for the days of True Believers and Green on Red with its urban drifter feel. Sam Boykin Short (full dicolsure: he's a friend and a neighbor) is a great guitar player, one of those guys you catch yourself thinking "Goddamn, he's a great guitar player" when you see him live, like I have a million times in his countless other local bands, but this configuration seems to serve him best. His sweet but still lethal strafing runs throughout the record, and particularly on "Propeller" are superb. If there is any band in my town I'd really like to see go big time, its this one. I think they got it in them.
Kim II came into my second foray to the patio, proclaiming she knows me from somewhere and we deduced that we have some common circles but different timelines and she made me promise to attend a poetry slam she is involved with every Tuesday at a place that once was a dive-tastic bar in which I misspent my formative years and a couple introductory credit cards that has in the span of time, burned down and been resurrected as a lackluster Mexican restaurant, replete with bright lights and mural of a lagoon. The most unnerving part is that the place has the same rickety tables and chairs of is former life, causing a rift in the bar-space continuum. It's the place I witnessed Brian Jonestown Massacre enact one of their implosions like in DiG. Its where legendary local dunk Hank got locked in on Saturday night only to be discovered Monday afternoon (we have blue laws closing the bars on Sunday in Louisiana) nearly comatose and naked on a pool table, bottles hanging from either side of his mouth. It's where a drinking buddy coerced me into stealing a discarded beer freezer in the bitter cold to haul it up four flights of stairs to his painting studio. It's the site of countless cockblockings perpetrated by and on me, where pitchers were spilled into Angry Young Men to fuel the fires of their Big Ideas. And now it serves terrible burritos and has a stall-less bathroom that resembles that in Full Metal Jacket, and yet those tables persist, like roaches after the Apocalypse, like coals after a fire and like the epic tales of a perfect night out.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com