Local legends the Waco Brothers tore it up nicely this Thanksgiving eve at the City Winery (1200 W. Randolph). Fronted by Jon Langford, the Waco Brothers have been a mainstay on the Chicago music scene since 1995. Although they have recorded seven albums, their deserved reputation stems more from their heart pounding and toe tapping live performances. Besides the manic energy provided by bass player Alan Doughty (who kicks more on stage than a Rockette), you also have the more reserved Dean Schlabowske whose dry sense of humor contrasts nicely with the band’s bawdy instincts. And Tracy Dear has to be the only mandolin player who plays his instrument with the same wild abandonment as Slash. Add Joe Camarillo on drums and you have a group of polished troubadours who come on with the intensity of a garage band. All night they pounded the stage with their classics such as Too Sweet to Die, Nothing at All, and Plenty Tough Union Made. They also did quite well ripping apart and putting back together a host of covers that included Johnny Cash’s Cry, Cry, Cry and I Fought the Law. One long-time fan sitting next to me summed it up best when he told me that the Waco Brothers were impossible not to like. I would have to agree.
Preceding the Waco Brothers was banjo legend Danny Barnes whose voice and instrument are capable of picking their way into one jazzy funk. I liked listening to what Danny Barnes had to strum and say, but also found myself put off a bit by his “backup band” (a small lap top computer placed next to him on a stool). Often Barnes, who was otherwise alone on stage, would take a prolonged break while this prerecorded band continued to play on. He even gave a shout out to the imaginary drum player seated behind him and it all was a bit funny, even if it was also a little karaoke.
Chicagoan Al Scorch opened the night and was backed strongly by a human band. With an earthy voice and banjo licks that made you want to move, Al Scorch provided the audience with glimpses of gore, beauty, and justice. I found Miss Rosie, with its strong Civil War imagery, especially haunting. And when he crooned about working the graveyard shift (literally) I had to chase back the chills with one of three shots of whiskey provided by Heaven Hill Distilleries. That and a good beer was what the evening was all about.
For information on upcoming shows at the City Winery click here: http://www.citywinery.com/chicago/
Photos unless otherwise credited by Noel Schecter