Sunday, February 04, 2007

February snow, January show

These wintertime posts are all starting to look the same. We got snowagain on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning -- just a dusting, but enough to turn the ground white, and of course M was going ape-sh** and running around in it before school. Later, I took a walk in Keller and saw a couple of trains on the Choctaw...

M's Tonka front-end loader was pressed into snowplow duty....

Later, M's Tonka dump truck laid down tracks in fresh powder...
Southbound MNPEW rolls through Keller. Friday 02/02/07.

If I haven't miscounted, this is our third snow of the season. I don't remember another winter with more than one or two. But El Nino keeps pumping moisture into Texas from the Pacific coast of Mexico, and cold air masses have been making it far enough south to freeze some of the precip. Fun times! Last August when the heat was all but unbearable, I never thought I'd be ready for spring by the first week of February.

The return of Wayne the Train

Last Saturday, Jan 27, a friend and I caught Wayne Hancock at Dan's in Denton. I had to work, so we got a late start and arrived abouthalfway through the first set. Arriving at 2315, I never thought we'd be hearing close to three hours' worth of music... but Wayne and his band actually played about 20 minutes past closing time. How's that forgetting our money's worth? (Did I mention the cover was a mere $10?)

If you're a fan of traditional country (especially Hank Williams), rockabilly, '50's-style rock, western swing, and great guitar playing, you owe it to youself to see Wayne and his band. Run, don't walk, the next time they come to your town. With their kind of talent, it's hard to figure out why these guys aren't selling out mid-sized arenas. But then, Americans in general, and country music fans in particular, don't necessarily always give preference to talent over style or spectacle. That might explain why Kenny Chesney sells more albums than Ray Wylie Hubbard. I guess I should consider myself fortunate that I have a preference for acts that few others want to see (or have even heard of)! In my opinion, smaller crowds are a good thing; it definitely makes for a more intimate environment at a show.

Wayne on guitar; Jake Erwin on "doghouse bass"

It would be tough to describe Wayne's Saturday performance in words and still do it justice, but here goes...

Dan's is a medium-sized bar located in an older commercial / industrial district southeast of downtown Denton. It's definitely not a "bar"district, although there are a few other bars around. Even though Dan's doesn't cater to the UNT (University of North Texas) crowd (being located more than a stone's throw from the UNT campus) plenty of students seem to find their way inside. Obviously, the crowd on any given night varies according to who's playing the live music. Most of the shows I've been to there draw an interesting mix-- college students, 30- and 40-something singles, beatniks, hippies, senior citizens, local ranchers and their wives and families. The ranchers wear cowboy hats, Wranglers, and boots, and sit at the front tables near the stage. They apparently make an evening of it; by the end of the night, the tops of their tables are always jammed full of empty beer bottles. But they often leave before the show ends. Occasionally, a mother and father will bring their kid(s) to a show.

Parking is not usually much of a problem; most of the streets near the bar are empty that time of night and you can park on the street. You might have to park a block or two away and walk to the bar, but it's no big deal. If the show has already started, you can hear the music from the street as you walk up.

As you walk through the entrance, a counter is set up just inside the door to your right. This is where you pay your cover and show ID. Behind the counter is a small bar (beer only). The full-service bar is in the far corner from the entrance. The stage is located on your left as you walk in, and the soundman is to the right. Taking the advice of James McMurtry (who K and I once saw at Dan's) -- "the music will sound a lot better if you're back by the soundman than if you're up by the stage" -- I always try to stake out a spot in this area. Beyond the soundman's booth are the restrooms, and past that is the rear exit, which leads to an outdoor patio. Wall decorations are sparse -- a few framed paintings here and there, fliers for upcoming shows, maybe an odd t-shirt or two, an empty flour sack bearing the "Dan's Silver Leaf" name. Ceiling decorations are a bit more interesting... a cattle skull above the stage, a 70's-era bicycle with a giant front fork that looks like it belongs on the wall at Joe's Crab Shack, an American flag made out of aluminum cans strung together on pieces ofwire. "E Pluribus Aluminum", baby!

Well, on Saturday evening after work, I met Mike and we carpooled to Denton. I found a place to park and we walked in and paid our cover. I bought a beer at the front bar and then we staked out a spot in the back of the crowd near the sound booth. Saturday nights always draw a big audience, and this show was no exception. But since it's a pretty small place, there weren't that many people between us and the stage.

Wayne & co. were playing "Viper" as we came in. I immediately noticed that steel guitarist Eddie Rivers was in attendance, which was good -- sometimes they tour without him, but their shows are always really smokin' when he's on stage. They had a different bass player with them this time, with a tall, skinny kid by the name of Jake Erwin -- Wayne kept calling him "Tulsa" -- taking the place of Chris Darrell. "Tulsa" did a fine job, and we had no complaints. And of course there was Wayne (wearing a red button-down shirt -- untucked --a kangol flat cap, khaki pants and Chuck Taylors; and guitarist Eddie Biebel, pantlegs rolled up, smiling his smug smile, eyes to the floor, cranking outsolo after solo, exchanging solos with Eddie Rivers on steel and Tulsa on bass, etc. One of the things I always notice at a Wayne Hancock show is the band's passion for the music, and I can always tell that the guys have a genuine love of being on stage and performing. Between songs, Wayne sometimes complained that his fingers hurt and/or were bleeding... right before he began tapping his foot, "1, 2... 1, 2, 3, 4" and starting in on the next song! Other times, he made a bit of a soapbox speech, reminding the audience that he'll charge a $10 cover and play all night, while other, bigger-name acts charge more and play a lot less. "Whatsa matter, don't they like to play?"

They played modified, extended versions of most of their album songs. Wayne would sing one verse and a chorus, and then send the Eddies into several back-and-forth solos. Wayne, with a huge grin on his face, would walk over to bassist Tulsa and say something to him; Tulsa would flash a grin and -- slapping his bass all the while -- yell something at one of the Eddies. Eddie R, wearing his trademark Hawaiian shirt, scowled over his pedal steel as he worked the strings with the intensity of a surgeon attempting to perform a triple bypass in record time. Eddie B's expression alternated between studious concentration and smug satisfaction, always looking down at his guitar and rarely at the audience, but he always smiled and acknowledged the crowd's applause at the end of a solo or a song. Several times, Wayne directed Tulsa into a bass solo -- sometimes for a full minute or two -- while the Eddies took a drink and then stood there smiling. Solos completed, Wayne would sing another verse, another chorus, and then send the band into another round of solos. Then he'd finish it out with another verse or a chorus. When they played Route 66, Wayne sent the Eddies right into their solos before he even sang a note!

With all the solos, songs that run 2 1/2 minutes on an album might last 8 minutes or longer at the show! The Eddies seemed pretty reserved (their intense focus demanded nothing less), but Wayne and Tulsa were fast and loose, and their energy never faltered. After about the sixth song (after Mike and I arrived), the band took a brief intermission, amidst many jokes about what Wayne would be smoking outside during their break -- and it wasn't Camels or Lucky Strikes.

Eddie Rivers on steel; Eddie Biebel on electric

"Tulsa" Jake Erwin on doghouse bass

During their break, I went out to the truck and took off my jacket, then came back inside and took a leak and got another beer. Within 30 minutes, the band was back on stage and ready to start the second set. The crowd had thinned out, leaving the rest of us with more room to stand, dance, drink, whatever. As the night wore on, a group of four guys from the crowd moved up to the stage and were dancing right in front of Wayne, buying drinks forWayne and the band, dancing with ladies from the crowd, etc, motioning for the crowd to give more applause to the Eddies. Two of the guys looked like '50s-style hoods -- jeans, white t-shirts, tattoos, greased hair. I thought I heard one of them tell Wayne they were from Indiana. After last call, Wayne apparently decided they'd just keep playing until the bar more or less kicked them off the stage. At 2 am, the bartenders came around and picked up everyone's drinks, but they let the band keep going. By now, there were fewer than 20 people still there, but still the band played on, with Wayne promising "just two more songs!" The guys up front wanted four, and I think they probably got their wish, because it was about 2:20 before they finished. The end was made "official" when the soundman announced on the p.a., "we're closed now; would everybody PLEASE LEAVE!"

last song - 20 minutes after closing time

During the second set, Mike eventually wandered off and found a seat on a barstool near the door, away from some of the cigarette smoke. When I found him after the show, he admitted being surprised at how much more energy and enthusiasm Wayne showed than he had when Mike saw him at Poor David's in Dallas about 5 years ago. Wayne has always been upbeat every time I've seen him, so I couldn't really account for Mike's bad impression. But that had been a couple years before I saw Wayne for the first time. I've heard that Wayne has struggled with alcoholism in the past, so maybe Mike caught him during one of those "down" times. Interestingly, Wayne did appear to be doing some drinking on stage last Saturday night, the first time I can recall seeing him drink during a show.
At any rate, to have seen Wayne Hancock and his band once, I'd consider myself lucky. To have seen him so many times during the past three years that I've lost count, I'm beyond lucky. I'm blessed. Their shows are one hell of a rockin' good time.
Stay tuned for more
If you made it this far, thanks for reading, and tune in next time whenI re-cap the REST of last weekend's activities...
np: Hank Thomspon - Squaws along the Yukon


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