Live Review : Jason & The Scorchers + Dan Baird & Homemade Sin + The Kentucky Headhunters @ The Tivoli, Buckley on September 10th 2019

Tonight I thought I was taking you to the Wild Wild West. My (t)rusty Megane was headed towards the sunset and I’ve been to Wales before so can attest to its wildness. I’d fastened on my spurs, talked the Grumpy Husband out of wearing his Dolly Parton wig, and was ready to roll my wagons. All my cowboy homilys were poised and ready to be slipped into the review. Well until I got to the venue and discovered that tonight’s triumvirate of bands are actually Southern Rock and not Country and Western. Damn. Foiled on a technicality! Genre fail!

Still, The Kentucky Headhunters start with some slide guitar and a real slow dirty down-home beat. They also all look like Grampa. Different varieties of Grampa, but definitely like they’d be at home on a veranda, with a banjo, wearing dungarees. The music is like old ZZ Top, bluesy and gritty, with just a touch of a rhythm you could line-dance to sneaking in. Sadly, there weren’t actually any banjos. I also felt that they were somewhat lacking in harmonica, and at least one of the guitarists looked like he wanted to be anywhere but on that stage for most of the set. They do some great harmony vocals though, including a couple of acapella bits. A couple of covers are thrown into their set of original material, including ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ and ‘Spirit In The Sky’. They’re nice enough, although there’s a hairy moment when I think they’re going to slip into ‘Stairway To Heaven’ but thankfully it passes with just a couple of bars. There’s some blues, and some honky-tonk, and it’s OK but just seems to be lacking something. I’m not sure what. Maybe some piano, harmonica like I said before, perhaps the essence of youth? Good but not great.

Dan Baird, on the other hand, is definitely lacking something as he comes on stage. That something is thankfully only his now-famous hat, which is quickly retrieved from the depths of backstage and plonked onto his head. Hat in place at a jaunty angle his music lacks absolutely nothing. He launches into his uptempo brand of country-southern-oh-who-cares-anyway rock and I realise that what The Kentucky Headhunters were missing was joy. Dan had a serious health scare in 2017 so it’s good to see him back on stage and back on form. He plays toe tappin’ gun slingin’ yeehaw rock and roll, and the set excels in both song quality and band performance. Highlight of the set for me is when they play his former band The Georgia Satellites’ ‘Keep Your Hands To Yourself’, a perennial favourite of mine and also a great favourite of the rest of the crowd too. The guitarist from the Headhunters joins them for this one and looks a lot happier now, funny that! The whole thing is made all the better by the ferocious guitar skills of Warner E Hodges, who I consider to be one of the most under-rated guitarists of all time and who is pulling a double shift tonight as he also plays with headliners Jason & The Scorchers. The room is full of energy and the whole mood is lifted as Dan gives us a range of songs spanning his career.

Jason & The Scorchers also have a long and illustrious back-catalogue, and Jason himself loafs onto the stage with arms and lanky legs flailing looking for all the world like a marionette in a rodeo shirt. He self-describes his music as “cowpunk” and indeed it’s a gloriously irreverent blend of country and western, high-energy rock and punk attitude. This is good-time bar-room boogie, spit and sawdust music. There are a couple of songs that I particularly enjoy. ‘Cappuccino Rosie’ is a pork n beans slice of Americana. ‘Beat On The Mountain’ is a tribute to miners and mining throughout the world, very apt here in Wales. There’s a catchy hum-along song called ‘Days Of Wine And Roses’ which Warner co-wrote with a certain Mr G Wildheart, and indeed Jason’s opened rodeo shirt reveals flashes of a Wildhearts t-shirt every now and again. It’s a small and incestuous world, the music business!

The band’s first ever single, ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’ (which is actually a Bob Dylan cover) is aired, and it reminds me very much of Dave Edmunds and Rockpile. Those of you who are as old as me may remember them? It’s followed by ‘Still Tied’, a slow and sleazy late-night speakeasy kind of song with hints of Elvis about it. ‘My Kingdom For A Car’ is faster, poppier, and features a nice bass part from original bassist Al Collins who has recently rejoined the band. ‘Broken Whisky Glass’ is, as the title suggests, a proper cowboy lament only with power chords instead of coconut shell hoof sounds. The evening ends on a high with ‘White Lies’ when Doug from the Headhunters joins them for a singalong chorus. Warner spins his guitar right round his body one last time and we are done. Time to saddle up our (steel) horses and head home. Yeehaw, what a great night that was.

Jason & The Scorchers + Dan Baird & Homemade Sin + The Kentucky Headhunters will be at the Manchester O2 Ritz on September 14th 2019

Words by Jo Crosby
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki