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Saturday, 14 January 2012 12:52

Concert review: Jason & the Scorchers and Brian Henneman celebrate the true roots of alt-country at Off Broadway, Friday, January 13

Concert review: Jason & the Scorchers and Brian Henneman celebrate the true roots of alt-country at Off Broadway, Friday, January 13 flickr.com/photos/denaflows/4666268955 / Dena Flows
Written by Annah Bender
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Watching Jason & the Scorchers howl, wail and swagger through a nearly two-hour set at Off Broadway was almost as fun as absorbing the crowd's frenetic reaction.

It's clear the Scorchers, who have been tearing it up onstage for as long as I've been around, are meant to be experienced live.

To help celebrate 30 years of countrified, punk-influenced blues rock, Brian Henneman (of the great St. Louis band the Bottle Rockets, who helped pioneer the genre of alt-country as far as I'm concerned) opened the show with a mellow set that included a nod to Waylon Jennings and multiple references to the Indigo Girls. (And perhaps there were similarities: nothing on stage but two guys in jeans, strumming loose and twangy guitars, singing about their feelings.) "I'll Be Coming Around," one of the most recognizable Bottle Rockets tunes, coaxed the straggling crowd around the stage, faces upturned and toes tapping in time to the music.

"If you write creepy songs, you get creepy fans," explained Mr. Henneman regarding the tendency of Bottle Rockets fans to be obsessive. No one rushed the stage or threw undergarments, although there was quite a bit of swooning when Henneman banged out the first few bars of "Bad Moon Rising" to keep things from getting too Indigo. A beautiful, if low-key, kickoff to the evening.

The Scorchers fired off with an oldie but a goodie, "Shop It Around," and kept up a relentless pace of classics, new material and everything in between. Frontman Jason Ringenberg, dressed to the nines in rockabilly finery, still sounds and dances like a juvenile delinquent: windmill arms and hiccups in all the right places. His band members look as though they've each been drawn from a separate era of rock 'n' roll history, as befitting a band whose sound and influences are difficult to categorize: country guitar, the occasional harmonica and nothing but pure hard rock pummeling from the rhythm section.

The crowd was lively. Between songs folks shouted out various shows where they'd seen the Scorchers play, dating back to the mid-'80s. (A special tip of Jason's sequined cowboy hat to the now-shuttered Mississippi Nights was given.) A parade of guests, including Nashville singer Stacy Collins, Henneman and Todd Snider (fresh from a performance at the Sheldon), joined the Scorchers onstage throughout the evening, whipping the crowd into frenzied dancing and taxing the limits of Off Broadway's sound system. I am not sure how many encore performances there were: two? Eight?

More people streamed in as the set progressed from cowpunk to the straight-up blues rock the Scorchers have been hammering out since their latest release, "Halcyon Times." Sometime after midnight -- the band and crowd still not lacking for energy -- the house was officially brought down with an ensemble rendition of "Take Me Home, Country Roads" -- surely the most raucous cover of John Denver ever performed. Ears ringing, the crowd replaced their cowboy hats and slid outside to continue the party at Uncle Bill's.

And that, folks, is how you make a rock 'n' roll living for 30 years: blazing through a tri-state radius fueled by country soul and pancakes.

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