Junior Brown

Went last night to Slim’s with friends to see the righteous Junior Brown. Holy mother of pearl, this was the most exhilarating show I’ve seen in a long time. Didn’t really have any expectations – just thought it was going to be good country music. So was totally unprepared for the range of this guy. First of all, he plays the “guit-steel” – a double-necked combined guitar and pedal steel guitar in one body. Apparently, the idea for this thing came to him in a dream, and put him on a quest to find a master guitar maker. Sounds great, looks great. He rests it on an elementary-school music stand rather than around the neck.

Four-piece band, all in sharp-fitting silvery suits (suits make such a difference). The bassist a wirey Alabama (?) nerd, flat-top rhythm guitarist, and the drummer an apparent cousin of Samuel Clemens – about 60 and playing a single drum and cymbal. “No city of drums on this stage, ladie and gents – when you know how to play, you only need ONE drum.” And he proved it, too.

They play Johnny Cash / Ernest Tubb-style country – honest stuff. But the thing is, it’s not just country. This is what happens when you grow up hearing Peter Frampton and the Moody Blues and watching Jello-brand gelatin commercials and make country music. It’s not fake country, not camp country – it’s the real deal, but it’s also, like, late 21st century or something. Just stomping, but with these breakout guitar solos that border on freaky, super staccatto hammer-on stuff, Hendrix blues. Like 7 degrees of camp, no more. Maybe a little more. I kept thinking Eugene Chadborne was going to take stage and turn the whole thing inside out.

Towards the end they went into this medley of TV and movie theme songs. It was relentless, punishing, hilarious. Hawaii Five-Oh, Secret Agent Man, Bonanza, I forget what else, but at one point you’re suddenly hearing the five-note aliens theme of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” played on the guit-steel. The audience busted a gut. Then it got way out – like lightning, he detuned his E string down about three octaves and played the mothership’s part. Back and forth between the human and alien parts, slick as snot. Then suddenly he comes out of Close Encounters and into Dueling Banjos. Like WTF?!!! Just amazing.

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