Words by: Sarah Hagerman | Images by: Dave Jackson
Langhorne Slim/Amy LaVere :: 05.10.08 :: The Mohawk :: Austin, TX
Perhaps the most telling image of the night was the sticker subtly slapped on the side of Amy LaVere's bass. It was that famous picture of Johnny Cash flipping the bird, his face creased in fuck-you rage but his dark eyes laughing underneath the tough exterior. A DIY homage to towering legends and the true grit to weave something original out of homespun traditions, the icon spoke to the deep rebellious undercurrent of Americana that both she and Langhorne Slim ride, constantly challenging the assumptions of their musical heritage while walking the line. Their quirky subversions of country, folk and several points in between swept us up in that tide as the heavy rains let up into a humid night, where we swam in beer and lovelorn tales.
Lord almighty was it a sweaty Saturday, even once inside The Mohawk. LaVere herself remarked, in her slight, lilting voice, "I love Austin, but my bass doesn't like this humidity – and neither does my hair." Although LaVere channels Patsy Cline's class and composure, there's a rough and rocking edge to her music and a sardonic wit beneath those brown curls. Her songwriting paints vivid pictures and weaves unforgettable scenes and characters, such as "Killing Him" (which is based on a true story):
She gave him everything that she had
Changed anything he said was bad
Love weighed on her heart like marble stone
A flash of the knife and he was gone
He said he would give her the sun and the moon
Now all she has is this eight-by-eight room
But killing him didn't make the love go away
While standing poised next to her upright bass, her fingers were a flurry of movement as she picked out deep grooving rhythms that made you move in spite of yourself, resonating throughout The Mohawk with turns both funky and crunchy. Adding swirling jams and bluesy fret-work, guitarist/flurry of curly hair Steve Selvidge is the kind of unassuming yet obvious talent that makes even drunk hipsters pause to watch what he's doing. Paul Taylor rounds out the trio, and having penned one of my personal favorite pastimes... er... I mean songs, "Pointless Drinking," one can be assured he shares the same sort of sly smarts and lack of rock star bravado that make LaVere and her backing musicians unique. LaVere and co. are that damn good they don't need flash. They are simply down home, even if it's the home you have to bolt from with a shotgun in tow.
If LaVere and her band appeared to never break a sweat, Langhorne Slim might as well have been baptized by the end of his set. Sporting a wifebeater, combat boots, anchor tattoo and fedora shading his eyes, he struck an image that was equal parts bluesman and gutter punk. But like LaVere, he is a sophisticated, smart songwriter, who draws on myriad of influences that propel him out of the anti-folk stratosphere. Some songs, such as the gentle, rolling "Restless," belie their catchy polish with self reflective "aw shit" lyrics that can only come from a night spent with glass firmly in hand and a morning spent picking pieces of that glass out of the carpet:
I felt restless and I felt soft
Didn't know anymore who I was ripping off
The packed in picnic lacked seriously on food
Had more wine than I knew what with to do
I just don't know what it is
I just don't know what it is
To be free
To hold and have somebody lean on me
Slim performed this song, as he did with the softer numbers, by pulling himself up close to the mic, practically straddling or tonguing at times in a way that was both intimate and sweet, but also raw and sexual. But other numbers, such as "Rebel Side of Heaven" rode on dirty, aggressive gravel you could feel under your toes. Caught up in this spirit, Slim shot himself back and forth across the stage like a pinball, slinging his acoustic guitar every which way, his wild shadow obscuring The Mohawk's tasteful background of a field of spindly Aspens. Meanwhile his band, The War Eagles, - Paul Defiglia (bass) and Malachi DeLorenzo (drums) - added impressive depth to his strumming and energetic riot. Shades of Joe Strummer, a little bit of London seeping into Texas by way of Pennsylvania and Brooklyn (where Slim currently resides) to paint a genre-bending, American road map. As we stumbled out from the curfew into the puddles looking for a sense of direction, I felt I could see that map in my head, its watershed stretching for hundreds of miles under the depths of our home soil.
Langhorne Slim is on tour now, dates available here...
JamBase | Lone Star State
Go See Live Music!