Jamey Johnson Warehouse Live May 11, 2011
Ladies and gentlemen, the feel-good show of the year.
Aftermath had never seen Jamey Johnson live before Wednesday, so we don't know if what happened is his usual modus operandi. Regardless, to see it in person was nothing short of remarkable.
For about half an hour, Johnson and his five-piece band fought a ham-fisted sound mix and typically distracted Houston crowd, who kept their conversation to a dull roar when they weren't voicing their approval of the cocaine, whores and marijuana plants in Johnson's lyrics. Other than that, he wasn't doing them any favors with his material.
Intermittently audible and each paced a notch or two above a crawl, there was an ex-con's realization of how little he's gained upon his release ("The High Cost of Living"); Willie Nelson's epic after-hours sigh ("Night Life"); a pot grower's account of grinding poverty ("Can't Cash My Checks"); and Merle Haggard's dream of a better, or at least different, life ("The Way I Am").
Then came another Willie song, a lovelorn request to the tune of "Red River Valley" ("Can I Sleep In Your Arms Tonight"); a songwriter piecing together a blackout from the cab of his pickup truck ("That Lonesome Song"); and a stark warning to the well-to-do to watch their backs ("Poor Man Blues"). "Lonesome Song" raised the tempo and the volume at the chorus, sparking a few "whoo"s, but otherwise each song dug an existential grave for the evening six feet deeper.
A minute or two into "Poor Man," it looked like they had finally reached the precipice. The song stopped abruptly, there was a split-second of hesitation, and then the band commenced Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It." Presto.
Like we said, Aftermath has no way of knowing if all this was planned or if Johnson actually got pissed and called an audible. Whether written by him or someone else, we doubt the man has ever sung a false word in his 35 years on the planet, and we're sure he's seen much rougher, ruder crowds than what he faced Wednesday.
Either way, it worked. "Shove It" jolted the crowd to attention, raising their glasses and singing along. The band hit honky-tonk cruise control on Hank Williams Jr.'s "Country State of Mind," Johnson singing about "raising hell in Houston." It's not hard to do.
By the next song, Waylon Jennings' "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?", Johnson was actually screaming the lyrics, although he was still barely moving at all onstage. Ice sufficiently broken - shattered is more like it - the rest of the evening was a push and pull between gentle songs that had people slow-dancing in the crowd ("For the Good Times," "Georgia On My Mind") and rebel yells that saw the band going at their instruments like yard dogs ("Macon," "Midnight Rider," "By the Seat of Your Pants").
In the middle of all this, a nice woman named Lisa stopped Aftermath and asked why we were taking notes. We told her, and she said she had come to hear Jamey Johnson (an Alabaman like herself) sing Jamey Johnson songs, not Willie, Merle, Waylon and Paycheck. We told her he had, and that no doubt he would again.
And then, at the very end, after his roadie gave Johnson a breather by coming out to sing Billy Joe Shaver's "Georgia On a Fast Train," he came back to sing a hit song he wrote for George Strait, "Give It Away," and then one he kept for himself, the heartwrenching old-man-looks-back saga "In Color."
Except he didn't really sing that one. "Prompted" is more like it - Johnson started off the verses and then backed off while the 500 or so people left in the room took over the lyrics with gusto. Last song of the evening was Hank Williams' "I Saw the Light," which plopped the version we saw Willie Nelson close with at Verizon last month on the back of a Harley-Davidson and roared off into the night.
Somewhere between raisin' hell and "Amazing Grace." That's how we do it in Dixie.
Personal Bias: Yes.
The Crowd: Good ole boys & gals - according to one Warehouser, much heavier on Outer-Loopers than usual. See below.
Overheard On the Patio: "The fact that she farted in your face - that makes me laugh, that lets me know you are cool and y'all are meant to be."
Random Notebook Dump: The reason we overheard that is because we went out to smoke during "Angel Flying Too Close To the Ground." Hell, we just heard Willie himself sing it two weeks ago.
Note: Songs in italics are Johnson's.
The High Cost of Livin' Night Life Can't Cash My Checks The Way I Am Mowin' Down the Roses Can I Sleep In Your Arms Tonight That Lonesome Song Poor Man Blues Take This Job and Shove It Country State of Mind Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way Georgia On My Mind Misery & Gin Angel Flying Too Close To the Ground Tulsa Time Macon Midnight Rider That's the Way Love Goes For the Good Times Even the Skies Are Blue By the Seat of Your Pants Playing the Part Give It Away Georgia On a Fast Train (roadie) In Color I Saw the Light