James McMurtry: Live Last Night
By Juli Thanki
Rail thin, with unruly hair and wire-rim glasses, James McMurtry looks like your favorite college professor, or perhaps an extremely literate vagabond. As the spawn of a Pulitzer winner and an English prof, it must be in his genes that he's able to write slice of life masterpieces that tread somewhere between humor and pathos.
(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)
Backed by the rafter rattling sound of the Heartless Bastards (Ronnie Johnson and Daren Hess, who were later joined by guitarist/sound man Tim Holt), the native Texan ripped through a tight set of 16 guitar-driven songs in under two hours, pausing only to switch instruments and deliver his trademark dry wit as when he remarked "our latest record came out a year and a half ago. It's still pretty good."
Nearly half of the songs played Wednesday night were from this record, "Just Us Kids," including his solo acoustic take on epic lost love tale "Ruby and Carlos" and the blistering roots rock of "Freeway View." "Choctaw Bingo," one of his best known songs, got the biggest reaction from the Birchmere crowd, who were boogieing at stage left and delivering a standing ovation by song's end.
McMurtry stayed away from his overtly political songs like "We Can't Make it Here," and the now obsolete "Cheney's Toy," instead looking at societal ills through a more intimate -- though no less fiercely honest -- scope: "Fire Line Road," an utterly gutwrenching story of incest and drug abuse, was reminiscent of Townes Van Zandt's best. Starkly beautiful lyrics combined with facemelting rock & roll . . . what more can you ask for in a concert?
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