Words & Images by: Phil Santala
Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons :: 08.28.09 – 08.30.09 :: Banditos :: Virginia City, MT
It had been over a year, two weeks over to be exact, since Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons brought their signature "Way Too Loud" sound to Virginia City, Montana's Banditos. For the fifth annual event the band had a few tricks up their sleeves, including a new soundman, plans to record a live album and a guest artist ta boot.
The soundman was Jeff Lord-Alge, who is no stranger to Jerry's sound. Jeff has mastered the sometimes-confounding aspects of a Jackmormons show with brilliance. Songs like "War At the End Of The World" and "What I Lived For" really shined through and allowed the full range of Joseph's singing to be appreciated. Even the rig Jeff packed in blew Banditos owner Scott Kelly away. "You should see the size of the fucking rig he hauled in here," Kelly exclaimed on Friday night. The lights that Jeff also runs add just the right accents and textures to the setting. One might think that this contributes very little to the sound at the show, but Jerry seemed to appreciate the lighting. He even commented that "the lights sound great" between songs. Maybe it is a quid pro quo of sorts, where the lighting can ramp up the audience, and the audience can definitely ramp up the performers.
As an added treat for the live album, fans were blessed to have drummer Steve Drizos' wife Jenny Conlee-Drizos sitting in on keys for all three nights. Jenny was on loan to the Jackmormons from her main gig with The Decemberists. At times bassist JR Ruppel turned towards Jenny, walking her through some of the changes in a song.
A year ago they debuted a new song here, "Wisconsin Death Trip," as an acoustic number, and as they ripped the holy crap out of it with an electric version on Friday they showed just how far the song, and perhaps even the band, has come. Don't take this the wrong way, but I haven't always been a Jackmormons fan. I saw them several times between 1999 and 2002, including the Irish Times show that produced Mouthful Of Copper. After that I was definitely a fan. My extended "retirement" from concert attendance ended with a Jackmormons show in 2005. Between 2005 and 2006 I saw just under a dozen Jerry Joseph shows, and at times I felt as if I was just hanging on. Whatever they were doing then, it just wasn't doing it for me. That all changed December 14, 2007, when I saw Jerry Joseph and Friends perform at Stella Blue in Ashville, North Carolina. I have consistently been impressed since then. No matter where he's at or how big the crowd is, Jerry is not only pouring his heart and soul out onstage, but he seems to be enjoying himself, at times. It works and it works well with Stockholm Syndrome , with the Jackmormons, with The Denmark Veseys and even solo. Through songs about hurt and pain some catharsis seems to be taking place, some joy seems to be growing out of the pain. Jerry joked on Sunday, "When I think of weddings and babies I always play this song," before "Ten Killer Fairies" which recounts the true story of a family being slaughtered by drug lords in Mexico.
|Jerry Joseph and The Jackmormons :: Banditos 2009 :: Montana|
When talking about the direction of the band Steve Drizos said, "Sometimes you can't even drive it; you just hang on for the ride." Joseph has become a master of melody, and his melodic evolution finds Jerry tinkering with his songs and enjoying himself more onstage.
Last year, listening to some of Jerry's songs was like hearing a static filled AM radio station. Friday's songs were tight and concise. The solos were there, a cover of Widespread Panic's "Second Skin" was played and "Crime and Punishment" was slow, yet so moving. Still, it felt like Jerry was holding back the mad ramblings from various cover songs that he usually interjects into setlists. After the show I thought perhaps it had to do with licensing agreements for the live album or some such legal nonsense.
|Jerry Joseph and The Jackmormons :: Banditos 2009 :: Montana|
Saturday opened with "War At The End Of the World." Fitting, since for some people Virginia City is as close to the end of world as one can get. Cell phones don't work here. Internet? Just forget about it; even the hotel doesn't have reception. "Pumpkin Time" may have been spurred by the placement of a wayward flip-flop by Jerry's monitor, an event that caused some joking among the band. Closing out the second set was a recently added combination, "Chainsaw City" followed by The Cure's "Fascination Street." The band preformed this pairing for the first time just after New Years 2008, and the combination works beautifully, with Jerry's revision of The Cure tune not be missed.
"Spin City" > "North" > "Spin City" contained Saturday's only example of the aforementioned "master of melody" approach with Lou Reed's "Walk on The Wild Side" chorus being lightly inserted. The end of the second set was time for them to start rolling out the big guns. "North" turned into an all out slugfest. "Ask me if I give a FUCK," barked the audience, drowning out even the reverberating amps. The pauses in this song have begun to take on a life of their own. They occur with greater frequency in more and more of the versions of "North." Very few things represent a well-oiled band than a nice good old fashioned pause in the middle of a song. Panic's "Walkin'" or "Good People" spring to mind as obvious comparisons.
Sunday was a different beast entirely. While the first two songs were slow, they contained more energy than the rest of the first set. A noticeably strapped down "Light Is Like Water" opened the evening, and I can only hope and pray that this version makes it on the live album. Goose-bumps rose on my arms as the song ended, just in time for the intro to "Alter In a Box" to send chills down my spine. The faintest, ghostly echoes of "All Along the Watchtower" ran along the extended intro to and resurfaced several time throughout. Rain and thunder began to poor down outside as lighting began to shoot out of amps. In a scene reminiscent of Jerry's "Cortez The Killer" with Panic at Oak Mountain in 2002, I choose to dance in the rain. Maybe that is the sign of really good music - its ability to transport our thoughts back to long forgotten battlefields. Oak Mountain, for those who were there, was just such a place.
|Jerry Joseph :: Banditos 2009 :: Montana|
The final highlights of another "Good Sunday" in Virginia City were an all out mash-up in the second set. The rants during "New Psychology of Love" gave way to The Rolling Stones' "Beast Of Burden" – a fitting combination to say the least. "Way Too Loud," a Jerry original written with a little help from Bloodkin's Danny Hutchens was augmented with U2's "Mysterious Ways." "It's alright, it's alright, it's alright," coxed Jerry as he led us into a pockmarked, bone jarring, high speed race down the "Road to Damascus." Closing out the second set, we slowed down a little for a sandwich of Neil Young's "Comes A Time" with a "Mohawk" right down the middle. Finally, Jerry closed the cover laden Sunday performance with "Both Of You" split open with a very heavy rendition of the chorus of Eric Clapton's "Let It Grow."
The album is tentatively titled Live @ Banditos and will be Jerry's sixth live album. It will be the second live album that the Jackmormons have recorded in Montana, Mouthful Of Copper being the first, back in 2002 at the now defunct Irish Times bar in Butte. While issues such as who will release it and when it will be released are still very much up in the air, one thing's for sure: three nights in Virginia City provided more than enough material for a double (or triple?) disc release.
Jerry's riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave between Stockholm Syndrome, his solo work and the Jackmormons. And those of you who did not make it to Virginia City this time, you're running out of excuses. Virginia City, Banditos Bar and Jerry Joseph are a trifecta not to be missed. Walking around the bar before the show I overheard people discussing fly fishing on the Madison, and I bagged three 10,500 foot peaks that day. So, if you got to start budgeting now to head on up "North" and start "Shooting Up the Neighborhood" next year in Virginia City, DO IT!
Jerry Joseph and The Jackmormons tour dates available here.
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