Ramsay Midwood wheeled the beat-up white van into the parking lot and stepped out in one of those cheap, goofy, beat-to-shit straw hats with the brim all taco-ed up like he’d slept with it on last night. On anyone else, the hat would’ve looked ridiculous, but on Midwood it looks like an invitation to a can of whup-ass for anyone who might care to cast an aspersion.
Thirty minutes later as Midwood and his unsung quartet of accomplices, in honor of the annual Under the Volcano crawfish boil, opened their show with a virile version of “The Crawdad Song” that sounded like Hank Williams fronting the Rolling Stones, I couldn’t help thinking how much more real the world would be if this ensemble was actually named Band of Heathens. Anyone who’s seen the official Band of Heathens, Austin’s new darlings for sure, knows what a misnomer that band name is on that group of guys. But Midwood and longtime partner in outlawery Randy Weeks, now they could righteously hoist the heathen flag and put fear in something besides the sorority sisters at Alpha Kappa Crappa or the slackers hanging around Momo’s in Austin.
Midwood segues out of “Crawdad” into his own angular “Mohawk Bridge” and Weeks whangs his guitar with that outer space tremolo that seems to make love to your ear. The lines about “Ruby Ridge” bring to mind the whole cult mess in Eldorado last week. Midwood stands back and lets Weeks take the lead vocal on Merle Haggard’s “Old Man From the Mountain” and the place goes nuts. Once again, Band of Heathens comes to mind; the real Band of Heathens could no more do a credible version of this chestnut than they could fly the Space Shuttle under the Ship Channel Bridge. The crawfish boil is starting to bubble.
Just to show that Midwood and Weeks aren’t the only threats in this Real Band of Heathens, bassist Mike Nicolai takes the lead vocal on Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway” and then segues into of all things Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business.” You could’ve knocked me over with a feather. The party went into overdrive as Weeks tore up the guitar solo and Midwood, working the rhythm groove, gave Weeks that glassy-eyed significant look that says, “whatever ‘it’ is, we’re in it.”
KPFT’s Rick Hysquierdo dropped in, pulled himself a fresh St. Arnold’s Elissa and bobbed his head with the rest as the set wound to a close with Weeks crooning the Troggs classic “Love Is All Around Us” followed by Nicolai’s stirring version of Buck Owens’ obscure classic “Girl Made in Japan.”
After the first of three sets, one thing was certain: this was tear-ass garage country that had zero in common with the Americana pop of the badly misnamed Band of Heathens. That Band of Heathens couldn’t find these grooves with a vibrator and line of coke.
With the election in full swing, Midwood’s rousing “Monster Truck” seemed more prescient than ever, but that was about the last cogent thought I had as the afternoon turned into a blur of crawfish heads, roasting ears, St. Arnold’s draught, and half a Little League team jumping like little heathens to crazy, crazy music. One of the best Sunday parties in ages. – William Michael Smith