Lonesome Onry and Mean recently opined that one of the reasons honky-tonk bands are back in vogue in Houston is that some of the better musicians in town have gravitated to honky-tonk bands in the last couple of years. It had been a long stretch since we had seen a country band in this town that couldn't hang with just about anyone on any night. But that all ended last night at Blanco's with New Orleans' Kim Carson.
Admittedly, Blanco's has never been a concert experience or a listening room. It's all about drinkin', flirting and dancing - doing what back in LOM's parents' day they called "honky tonkin'." But that still doesn't excuse the fact that, by local standards, Carson's show was tinny, timid and tepid. An example? Up beside the version of "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" we saw Jubal Lee Young and band rip through the night before at Under the Volcano, Carson's had all the muscle and soul of the Osmonds on life support.
Carson also seemed to have called every musician in Houston to come out and sit in with her. In fact, there was so much sitting in that she left the stage midway through the last set and never returned while a series of "Texas music" yayhoos like Dewey Wayne and Chad Ware made their way through some excruciatingly rote, stale renditions of Merle Haggard and the like.
Johnny Cash must've rolled over in his grave at Wayne's Hank Jr.-posing version of "Folsom Prison Blues"; Wayne explaining that he's from Alabama only slightly reduced the violation of something sacred. At least it ended before someone got the idea to play "Sweet Home Alabama."
It's been interesting to watch Blanco's lately, to see how a new younger, hipper crowd is starting to coalesce there and mix with the old-time Republican/Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo crowd that has kept the place alive all these years. Two nights in a row, we've seen scruffy young guys in wool stocking caps hanging out, drinking longnecks and chowing on burgers.
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One guy last night had on his Lonestar Pornstar T-shirt and a stocking cap; his girlfriend was all tatts from the ears down. Among the faux cowboys, semi-pro two-steppers, and cowgirl clothes from Tootsies, they looked as out of place as Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love at a Kenny Chesney show. We were glad they were there.
Only a year ago, it would not have seemed possible. Today, it looks like a harbinger of subtle change. If Blanco's is to live on - and it certainly should - new blood will be needed. Hopefully part of the change will be a raising of the musical bar. It certainly wasn't raised last night.
Memo to Kim Carson and other bands: don't get every musician you've ever met up to play with you. It turns the thing into a glorified open-mike. And that's not a good thing for people who are serious about their country music.
Ray Charles said it best: Be great or be gone.