Aftermath: Cheech & Chong at Verizon Wireless Theater; Willie Nelson at House of Blues

Photos by Chris Gray

Willie Nelson and Cheech & Chong? On the same night – Halloween night to boot? Nothing less than every stoner’s dream come true. The real question was, would anybody remember anything afterward?

Let’s start at the suspiciously smoke-free Verizon, where about a third of the sold-out crowd came to the early show as either Cheech, Chong or one of the women from their various movies. There were more old hippies there than a Soap Creek Saloon reunion in Austin.

Almost 30 minutes after the announced start time – imagine that – Chong’s bombshell wife Shelby emerged to warm up the crowd. Before discussing Barack Obama’s campaign slogan (“I hope he has a ten-inch dick”) and how Chong’s 2004 incarceration for making and selling bongs led her to discover the, well, pleasures of owning a vibrator and the the obligatory “Dave’s not here” reference, she remarked on the venue’s lack of vapor clouds.

“Any stoners out there?” she asked to a predictably thunderous response. “So did you guys get high at home or in the car?”

After about 15 minutes of similarly blue material and a video montage of Cheech & Chong, the duo emerged with the “Pedro de Pacas” hitchhiker sketch… and another dick joke. (“That’s not a joint.”) “Let’s Make a Dope Deal” found Chong as “Bob,” tasked with answering Marin’s questions like “What’s your name?” in the hopes of winning a truckload of primo British Columbian bud or 500 pounds of black Afghani hash, not a date with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer behind Door No. 3.

Bob won the hash after correctly spelling his name backwards, and Chong did some brief standup about getting busted – jail, he said, “gave me five more years of material” - and how he and Marin met in Canada: “Cheech was part a secret army making sure the Viet Cong didn’t attack from Alaska.”

“Old Man in the Park” was probably the funniest skit Aftermath saw, opening with Chong busting some pigeon heads with his cane. Enter Marin as a fellow bottle-toting vagrant.

“I could be your daddy.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, I used to fuck buffaloes – you look an awful lot like your mama.”

More standup from Chong about why the elderly are dangerous – “We reach an age where we see the end of the road, and we don’t give a shit” – and Obama’s possible stonerhood. “A black guy from Hawaii who surfs? He’s smoked a little.” Marin emerged as “Red Hickey, hillbilly Mexican singer, but by this point it was time for another hillbilly singer associated with the same color.

Photo by Daniel Kramer/click here for a slideshow

Unless it’s your first time – in which case, why on earth have you waited this long? – a Willie Nelson (and family, of course) show is like an episode of Law and Order. Only the minute details vary from one to the next, but they’re all entertaining. Besides, even at 5’2”, only Nelson could stand underneath a stage-to-ceiling Texas flag and avoid being dwarfed.

And even though his set is always the same (more or less), Nelson always manages to sound like he’s calling each tune spontaneously. And his nearly lifelong study of Django Reinhardt’s gypsy-jazz guitar means there’s always plenty of improvisation within the songs themselves; “Still Is Still Moving to Me” and his acoustic shredding on “Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away” were especially salient examples Friday.

Photo by Daniel Kramer

And so it went, song after song everyone in the packed house – many dressed as the Red Headed Stranger – had heard a thousand times before and minded hearing again not a bit: “Crazy,” “Night Life,” “On the Road Again,” “Me and Bobby McGee,” etc. Those not talking to their neighbors, that is: Nelson’s gorgeous picking on “Help Me Make It Through the Night” thankfully managed to transcend the considerable crowd chatter. Seriously, people, what could possibly be more important than watching Willie Nelson – especially after you paid at least $65 to be there?

Nelson’s piano-pounding sister Bobbie shone on a ragtime instrumental of Bob Wills’ “Miss Molly” and a strolling honky-tonk shuffle from last year’s Audiobiography. Trusty harmonica man Mickey Raphael brought bluesy heft to “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time” and “Milk Cow Blues.” Drummer Paul English, the only one onstage dressed for the occasion, mercifully shed his absolutely awful Ringo Starr wig after a few songs.

More songs you know by heart: “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” (still devastating after all these years), “Always on My Mind,” Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” and “Hey Good Lookin’,” “City of New Orleans.” And maybe one you don’t, 1970’s “Me & Paul,” Nelson’s ode to life on the road with his drummer and long an Aftermath personal favorite.

Then, wonder of wonders, an Actual. New. Song. Seems like every other performer from Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen on down, Nelson can’t help but offer his two cents on tomorrow’s election. In this case it was the lively, pointed “Take Back America,” with his daughters Renee and Amy singing backup. Appropriately, then, he closed with the timeless “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and by all appearances, it certainly seemed intact.

Although, Aftermath must confess, his memory might be a little… hazy. In fact, this morning he thought his notes had vanished entirely before realizing he had simply mistook the back cover of his notebook for the front. Halloween 2008 was high times indeed. – Chris Gray

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray