Last Night: Fred Eaglesmith At McGonigel's Mucky Duck

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Fred Eaglesmith McGonigel's Mucky Duck February 22, 2011

Rocks Off Sr. wanted to know, and he wanted to know now.

"What kinda crowd is this? Canadians?"

"Yeah, some, for sure." Aftermath understands these things. Instinctively. It's like drinking good whiskey.

"But look at this bunch. There are people who drove over from Beaumont. And there are people here who never stay out this late."

"So how many Canadians do you think there are in town?"

Aftermath had encountered anti-Canadian sentiment before, but never at this level of toxicity.

"A bunch. You should see the Albertans who turn out for Corb Lund's Tuesday shows here. Way more Canadians than you think. But this crowd cuts across it all, Robert Earl Keen, Hank Williams, Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Sarah MacLachlan, you name it.

"All those crowds show up for Fred."

Aftermath has seen Eaglesmith a dozen times the past few years, but Tuesday night it had, as it often does, some "that's not where I'm at any more" element, some sign of moving beyond what's gone before.

By the time he was done, he'd brought his local tribe together anew. But at some other place than they assumed the meeting would be.

Like a limping, bankrupt circus or a no-label, brown-bottle medicine show, Eaglesmith's latest stage reinvention, with its hoochie women and seedy midway aura, made a perfect visual backdrop for his songs for parched souls. One could almost visualize this tour moving across the back roads in a Conestoga wagon drawn by two oxen with bells, selling patent medicines to people who would later star on Corn Flakes boxes with pitchforks.

And like the anti-hero star in a B-movie about carnies and freaks, from the opening "I Like Trains," Eaglesmith, with a three-day salt-and-pepper beard and a huckster hat right out of Tom Sawyer, was an oily yet entirely sympathetic master of ceremonies in some Canadian P.T. Barnum way, making jokes, enjoying the shuck and jive of a Texas Tuesday night with a sold-out crowd - and temperatures in the 70s!

And, just as he does every time we see him, Eaglesmith turned the expectations upside down with a flick of his wrist, move of the capo, a moment of Zen clarity. For a Tuesday night in America, there may have been no better trifecta than the blood-of-the-lamb darkness of "I Pray Now"; his didactic explanation of the musician's life, "Alcohol and Pills"; and a Fredheads call-to-order version of old favorite "Freight Train."

By the time he was done working his way faithfully through "Time To Get a Gun," "Spookin' the Horses," "Good Enough," and "An East Wind Always Brings Rain," Eaglesmith had once again sold the medicine to the faithful. And the faithful were lifted. Nothing remained to settle but the encore.

Personal Bias: Eaglesmith gave local hero Hayes Carll several legs up with festival appearances. Fred gets it.

The Crowd: OK, just between us, LOM thinks those Canucks are a lot like those Scottish nationalists. They're gonna buy Austin as soon as they get the money in the bank. And they're getting close.

Overheard In the Crowd: "I love his music. I just wish he'd let the politics go."

Random Notebook Dump: The Woody Guthrie of our time?

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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