One by one the attendees would make their way to the dance floor, shake their asses and find themselves transfixed by what they were both saw and heard. Paul Thorn, son of a preacher and nephew of a pimp, has seen life on both sides of the tracks, and from those sides he finds the humor and the good in what intellectual folks call "humanity." His distinctive southern drawl and stories that, for the most part, draw directly from his life took on a new existence under that revival tent.
The night started out with St. Louis' own Candy Coated Evil. A self-described "Evil Partridge Family" made up of Syd "Destructo" Schlemer on bass and vocals, Lexy Schlemer on guitar and vocals and father Phil Schlemer on drums. Sisters Syd and Lexy were striking in a look and sound that made one think that the Horropops were kidnapped by an outlaw biker gang then forced to listen to ZZ Top for hours on end. Musically they landed somewhere between the psychobilly underbelly and the hard-hitting blues rock that St. Louis is known for. Throw in a few songs that sound like Descendents professing their love for both Bill Paxton and William Forsythe and you have a fuller image of CCE's approach.
As Paul Thorn's band took the stage you could see the imaginary stakes being driven into the ground and the hoisting of the tent. This show was just a day after his 49th birthday and the crowd in St. Louis wanted to help keep that celebration going. Thorn has been immortalized on various drive-time comedy shows for songs like "It's a Great Day to Whup Somebody's Ass." It has become an anthem of sorts to all those having a bad day, but behind songs like that is a gifted songwriter with an outlook that makes him unique amongst his contemporaries. He finds those bright and humorous moments in times that look bleak.
Those that were waiting for a night of novelty songs were in for much more, and Thorn abstained from playing that notorious song altogether. Instead his set list showcased his versatility in his originals and covers, such as Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Snake Farm," which he made his own; his vocals gave the song a different sexuality that could only come from his unique drawl. While his choice of covers were pulled from his most recent album "What the Hell is Goin' On," it was the songs that he penned that stood out. His top-notch band (whom he has been touring with for almost 15 years) includes guitarist Bill Hinds, keyboardist Michael Graham, bassist Ralph Friedrichsen and drummer Jeffrey Perkins. This rocking outfit is everything that modern commercial pop country music wants to be: great songs, great playing and a whole lot of rock 'n' roll.
The band blasted through the songs "800 Pound Jesus" and "I Bet He Knows" from his first album, 1997's "Hammer and Nail," to "Love Scar," "I Don't Like Half the Folks I Love" and "Weeds in My Roses" from his 2010 album "Pimps and Preachers." In each of his songs there is a life that comes from Thorn's voice and his ability to relate with the audience in a personable manner; he's an average guy trying to do good, messing up, finding beauty and that little bright spot when everything is falling apart.
With Thorn you are going to get a story. Somewhere in the middle of the night, as the band members left the stage leaving him by his lonesome with his Gibson Hummingbird, Thorn began his introduction to "I Hope I'm Doing This Right."
"So, this stretch has us out here of about 24 days," he began. "See my 9-year-old daughter and I have this thing that we like to do. She likes me to tickle her. So as I am fixing to leave, and she knows I am fixing to leave she says, 'Tickle me before you leave.' So as I am tickling her and listening to her laugh I was trying to hold back the tears."
In that moment he began to well up before striking the first chords. It was a moment that lasted for the duration of the song, an emotion that is rarely seen from a performer, especially a veteran troubadour such as Thorn.
"I forgot what I was gonna play next. Anyone got a request?" he asked. "I got a little choked up during that last song." With a holler from the balcony, Thorn jumped into "Joanie the Jehovah Witness Stripper." A moment of subtlety and heartbreak became something rollicking and fun; that was the unspoken theme for the night, even when those moments happen within one song.