Aftermath: At The End Of The World As We Know It, Shooter Jennings Feels Fine

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"I've seen the future, brother," Leonard Cohen once sang. "It is murder." Maybe that's why there weren't more people at Meridian Wired Live Friday night. Pondering the shape of things to come is bad enough without coughing up a Jackson to have your weekend entertainment hammer that point home, over and over again, through a sticky coat of classic-rock resin too potent and too poisonous (not to mention too recent) for drive-time Arrow listeners to glom onto. Seems a lot more people preferred Yeasayer's mechanized distractions for about the same price, or Warpaint and Grandfather Child's indie hoodoo for even less. Hard to blame them. For about half that, starting tomorrow, you can hear Merle Haggard sing about how much better it all was back in the day. And pay your taxes by Thursday, or those jackbooted New World Order shock troops are going to show up on your doorstep a lot sooner than even Shooter reckons on his band Hierophant's new album Black Ribbons. Believe it or not, an album that reconstructs the final hour of so-called free speech on the soon-to-be government-controlled airwaves is a tough sell, perhaps especially so in a by-the-book town like Houston. And playing it straight through soup to nuts barely a month after it came out is probably not the best way to attract interested (if not innocent) bystanders, either. The price of rebellion isn't always exacted in bullets; sometimes crickets work just as well. Aftermath heard the "Skastravaganza" with Voodoo Glowskulls and Authority Zero next door in Meridian's Wired Live's Channel Room outdrew the 100 or so people on hand for Shooter in the 1,000-capacity main room by about three to one. But Jennings and Hierophant soldiered on with nary an outward acknowledgement of any disappointment with the size of the crowd. In concert, Black Ribbons came across the same way Jennings and company laid it down in the studio, dominated by marshy keyboards and rugged guitars. They needed some black lights up there real bad. It's possible to imagine a few songs, chief among them brown-acid opener "Wake Up," Gregg Allmanesque swamp-blues "The Breaking Point" and splatter-punk rocker "F*** You I'm Famous," surviving somewhere deep in the set lists of future Jennings tours, but nothing that could be trotted out as surefire encore material the way the band did later on with Shooter's dad's "Rainy Day Women," a gospel-tinged "Black Cadillac" and brush-fire perfect "Fourth of July." But that, Aftermath supposes, is probably the point. Jennings and Hierophant (a band name, if not a band, that probably won't last past this record/tour) are making enough of a statement releasing Black Ribbons at all and playing it straight through night after night - a statement that they are going to play the songs they want to play the way they want to play them, regardless of how many people do or don't show up. The music was big and bold enough that it gave Aftermath a flash or two of Hierophant on a much bigger stage, playing before a crowd bigger than the one that showed up Friday by a thousandfold. Maybe that's what Jennings saw too, behind those mirror shades of his. But that's an alternate reality a long, long way from what actually happened Friday.

If the philosophy of the already imaginable enough Black Ribbons truly does come to pass, it probably never will happen, because Big Brother will track down all those credit-card numbers submitted via Ticketmaster and exterminate the people to whom they belong long before they have their tickets scanned at any arena turnstile.

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