The Variety Playhouse was once again packed with music lovers as the guitar driven rock & roll tunes bounced off the walls like a kid on pixie sticks filling fan’s ears with enough chunky rhythms to satiate even the people that were dragged there by friends or family. From the opening riff of the Turbo Fruits set to the final tune from the Hard Working Americans this was one hell of a night of music. Fans were wowed, newbies were won over and skeptics were placated which is something live music tends to do.
The Hard Working Americans (HWA) took the stage fiddled with their instruments and immediately launched into “Another Train”. The Will Kimbrough classic chugged along with Todd Snider’s “Is This Thing Working” mixing things up about halfway through the song. The music just got better from their as they built off of each song. Rolling through “Blackland Farmer”, “Down To The Well” and “Welfare Music” and a few others set the crowd up for the songs that were to come. The show really exploded when they kicked into “I Don’t Have a Gun” turning the Kimbrough/Womack tune into an 8+ minute jam fest. From there HWA took the Randy Newman track “Mr. President Have Pity On The Working Man” into a swampy blues direction that had a hint of Newman’s trademark piano. One of the better songs of the night was “Straight To Hell” by Drivin’ n’ Cryin’. Veering away from the country tinged drunken party sing-a-long the song was brooding and somber making it into something completely different. This didn’t stop the packed house from singing along and when Kevn Kinney (lead singer of Drivin’ n’ Cryin’) hit the stage to join in the chorus Todd Snider and band looked a bit surprised at his appearance. (Although I am sure it was planned.) After a rowdy version of Hayes Carll's “Stomp and Holler” and a brief encore they closed the show with a haunting rendition of “Wrecking Ball” (Gillian Welch). One of the best tracks on their album and one of the best songs ever written HWA’s live version made the song bigger than life. The band delivered a layered musical soundscape while Snider’s vocals were loaded with emotion, seeming to take a lot out of the singer. With an album of tunes under their belt reinventing other’s songs as their own that is pretty damn good, hearing HWA play live just made them that much better. Snider owned each of these songs as his own while Dave School and Duane Trucks set the pace, the guitar tandem of Neal Casal & Jesse Aycock was brilliant and Chad Staehly’skeys provided the soul. Snider seemed distracted at first but half-way through the first song something clicked and he was dialed in. It was if each article of clothing he removed the better his performance became, I am just glad he stopped and left on his pants and tee. From the sweat dripping off of each band member they truly did live up to the name Hard Working Americans.
Opening the show was another Nashville band, Turbo Fruits, and these guys know how to rock. Wide ass open garage rock with a southern flavor is there specialty and Thursday night they were cooking. The dual guitar attack of Jonas Stein and Kingsley Brock lead the way with Stein belting out the vocals. Songs like “Colt 45” exemplified their blistering attack with mellower tunes such as “Sweet Thang” playing compliment throughout the night. These dudes were quite impressive and when the smoke cleared from their set the evening bar was set high for HWA.
These two bands are perfect for each other. Neither is afraid to get down and dirty nor crank up the volume. The story of the night was the guitar players as both bands filled listener’s ears with a wealth of nasty blues infused licks bordering on psychedelic. The music of both bands would fit nicely on any of the Nuggets compilations. Go check out the Hard Working Americans and the Turbo Fruits. Listen to their records then do yourself a favor and see them live. I am glad I did.