Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Reckless country soul

As we came out of the Greystones pub in Sheffield on Monday night, my friend remarked on how close the car behind mine was parked. He was right. It was parked in my boot.

When the owner came out, she apologised and said: "I must have forgotten to put the handbrake on". That's not a good idea anywhere, really, but in Sheffield, a city where practically every road is at a 45-degree angle, it's a disaster. Her car had actually been parked on the other side of the road before rolling into mine, so I suppose she could count herself lucky that it had hit mine full-on, rather than careering down to the bottom of the hill and taking out a dozen or so vehicles, plus anyone in its path. She kept saying "It's on a hill", as if this fact had just struck her.

I tell you this not in a bid for sympathy, or as a general moan about the state of modern Britain, but as a bit of context. Because when I finally got home at around 2am, with the prospect of a day of ringing insurance companies ahead, I still couldn't keep the silly smile off my face on account of what we'd seen and heard in the pub a few hours earlier.

I can't remember exactly when I cottoned on to the distilled essence of rock 'n' roll that is Jason and the Scorchers - late 80s, I think, and certainly not when they first came to prominence earlier in that decade. And much as I've loved their records, I'd never managed to see them live, although I've caught up with frontman Jason Ringenberg's solo shows many times.

So, this 30th anniversary tour was always going to be a blast for me. I just didn't dare hope that Ringenberg and guitarist Warner Hodges, fiftysomethings both, would still manage to play with the enthusiasm and energy of a band born yesterday.

Americana, as it gets called these days, has to an extent become its own ghetto. Lots of perfectly good  but ultimately very similar records get made, and there are only two ways to escape this. One is to throw anything and everything into the creative gumbo without worrying too much about spurious notions of authenticity. The other, and this is the route JatS have taken, is to do everything with an utterly un-self-conscious conviction that blows away any doubts.

So, the musical recipe was much the same as ever. Hi-octane, hammer-down country-rock, made up of equal parts Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, Rolling Stones and punk. Ringenberg is the X-factor - dressed in the same stetson and jacket as graced the White Lies video in 1985, he's capable of injecting a knowing, even sneering tone into the lyrics, but in between songs is as affable and charming as you could wish for. He was in particularly good humour this time, because he was "back in the city named after my own hometown".

It was a mark of their confidence in their most recent album, Halcyon Days, that they were able to deliver three of their biggest punches mid-show with little fanfare or build-up. Their incendiary cover of Dylan's Absolutely Sweet Marie is still pretty peerless, I Can't Help Myself is as joyously celebratory as they come, and Broken Whisky Glass is as hilarious as ever ("here lies Jason, straaaangled by love").

Newer romps such as Mona Lee elicited an equally rapturous response, and they closed a 100-minute set with an extended version of White Lies that encapsulated everything that makers them great. Reckless country souls, indeed.

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