Lookout Joe, the newest side project of Brian Henneman (the Bottle Rockets, Diesel Island) opened with rocked-out takes on country classics and countrified '60s pop. Henneman's on lead guitar, sharing vocals with rhythm guitarist Kip Loui (also of Diesel Island) and upright bassist Richard Tralles. Their country catalog takes a rocky road, thanks to Henneman's new Rickenbacker that gives squall to everything from George Jones' "Tall Tall Trees" and Hank Williams Jr.'s "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound." When they take a pop turn, like the unexpected Tralles-sung "These Boots Are Made for Walking," it's stripped of all gloss down to bare dirty strings. The trio claims Lookout Joe is something they do just for fun, which shows. But they're also doing a solid to their heroes with their lovingly-presented covers.
Southern Culture on the Skids took the stage with little fanfare, instead focusing on greeting friends, like former tour mate Pokey LaFarge, who made up the rather small audience, before launching into instrumental "Skull Bucket."
Guitarist/vocalist Rick Miller and drummer Dave Hartman sported matching t-shirts from King Edward's Chicken and Fish in Crestwood. For the uninitiated, fried chicken plays an important role in all Southern Culture on the Skids shows. Bassist/vocalist Mary Huff was dressed to kill in hot pink and white go-go girl gear and her flaming red bouffant wig, which she primped and adjusted between songs.
They didn't hold back on the kitsch when necessary, as on big hair ode "Liquored Up and Lacquered Down." But it's not all kitsch. Under the old sound and alliterative hook is a tale of a woman who could have been something, but opts instead to be a young bride who drinks gin to stay thin and makes herself up like a movie star. What seems like it could be a joke aimed at big-haired white trash is a bit sad under the flawless rockabilly facade.
The band's far more than its throwback look and innuendo-filled tunes. Fact remains that all three are top-notch musicians who've mastered a hybrid of niche genres -- surf, rockabilly, and hints of country and punk. Miller straightforward shreds bell-clear riffs on "Voodoo Cadillac" before merging into a miniskirt-tight jam. Any nostalgia from the band doesn't come from their retro aesthetic, but from their own history. Miller told stories behind many of the songs, like the North Carolina bootlegger/tanning salon entrepenuer in "King of the Mountain," and the band's experience in filming "Strangest Ways" on a freezing beach for 1997's "I Know What You Did Last Summer." Before "House of Bamboo" an audience member slipped Miller a note about how she took her four-month old son to see them in Raleigh many years ago.
"The Wet Spot" and "Corn Liquor" highlighted their musicianship, the former with breakneck surf guitar, the latter with three-part vocal harmonies and Hartman's intense slow-punk drumming. For "The High Life" Huff's vocals are clear and bright.
Instead of trying to maintain their rather small genre, the band has instead taken the route of re-issuing old albums. Most recently the 1998 E.P. "Zombified." They invited Beatle Bob onstage for the title track to be a rather awkward, sometimes gorilla-esque zombie.
They pulled out the favorites for the show's end, which they admitted sounded a lot like a southern buffet, starting with "Pig Pickin'." Per SCotS tradition, fans came onstage to throw fried chicken into the audience during "Eight-Piece Box." It's not a proper experience unless you get hit at least once with a greasy thigh at some point during the show.
Before "Camel Walk" Miller told the story of the song's creation: he wrote it after watching a Discovery Channel show about Egypt while Huff, wearing only her underwear, walked around their Motel 6 room, eating a Little Debbie oatmeal pie purchased from a salvage store. "The camels were walking down the Nile, then Mary'd walk by with that oatmeal pie." True or not, the song elicits fervor from fans, some who brought their own oatmeal pies to toss onstage. Two young adult women danced onstage while what appeared to be their parents stood front and center, cheering them on. When the girls requested "Banana Puddin," their mama produced a pudding snack pack and threw it onstage to them.
For their only encore, they dedicated countrified "Drunk and Lonesome (Again)" to Lookout Joe and ended with a request for "Daddy Was a Preacher, Mama Was a Go-Go Girl." The couple who requested the song jumped on stage, dancing the Monkey. It felt right, dancing to a strong-skilled band who played like they were having the time of their lives. Twenty-nine years in, and Southern Culture on the Skids shows still feel like moonshine-fueled house parties. As long as that's the case, they'll never go out of style.
Southern Culture on the Skids Set List:
Liquored Up and Lacquered Down
King of the Mountain
Fire of Love
House of Bamboo
The Wet Spot
Bone Dry Dirt
The High Life
She's My Witch
Dirt Track Date
Stone in My Pocket
Drunk and Lonesome (Again)
Daddy Was a Preacher, Mama Was a Go-Go Girl