Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Freight train dirges and punked out banjo

I convinced Jenny to come out last night to see The Can Kickers and The Pine Hill Haints at 11:11 Teahouse, and the show did not disappoint. Even the opening kid, whose name I cannot remember (Ben Somethingsomethingboring - Jenny), was okay--although every time he started a song, I thought he was playing Jewel. It was weird.

Anyway, The Can Kickers are three boys from CT who play country/bluegrass like a punk band. Wide stances, fast paced banjo and fiddle, intense drums. And then they throw in a funk beat and everything goes crazy. I have never seen so many of the cool kids dancing at a show. At one point the drummer was standing up, going nuts on a washboard and still playing his kick drum, and I thought, this has to be the best live music moment I've had in years. (And, because these things are very important, of course--their drummer was totally cute in that didn't-I-go-to-high-school-with-you kind of way).

The crowd was full of good energy, dancing and clapping, for the Kickers, but then The Pine Hill Haints came on and everything went completely nuts. Rowdy, drunk, hipster-redneck mosh pit nuts. It was kind of surreal. I danced and tried to avoid any unpleasantness, but it was hard. I ended up having to watch the last few songs from the back of the room, where Jenny had retired long before.

I had no idea the Haints had such a following, but it seemed like everyone there knew the words to all the songs. A few fanboys spent the whole show calling out requests, and the band snarked at them about how crappy their taste was, and it was good fun. The band kept saying how insane and kind of terrifying the crowd was, but no fights actually broke out, and I think everyone survived.

Anyway, all this riled up craziness was well-deserved. The Haints blew me away. They're very rockabilly, and their stage show is unified without feeling purposefully thematic. They have an old radio mike with a painted box stand (it says WPHH), play a homemade stand-up bass made from a washtub, broomstick, and string, and they sing songs about ghosts and trains and whiskey. It's very fun, and feels very real--like they live the same life offstage that they present onstage. I heard one of the band members talking before the show, and he said he lives on old family land in Northern Alabama. I realize that authenticity doesn't necessarily make you any better, but these guys are good, and none of it is gimmick.

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