It's fair to say I've seen a lot of live music, and it's never fair to fault the band when there's something wrong with the house - the sound system is poor, the schedule is out of wack, any other assortment of things that go wrong with gigs. I've been on the other side of the mic a fair share myself, and I know how much can frustrate a show, particularly when you're on the road, it's not your town or your venue, and you don't know the idiosyncrasies of a particular soundboard. So, when I write reviews, I feel a little mercy for the performer. Squint my ears against the cracking speakers and stand through the rain, wait through the nights when the schedule is an hour off, etc., because artists deserve an audience and a chance to get an honest write-up from people like me who have this weird job.
That said, there's a reason I don't go to a lot of shows at the Comet Tavern. In fact, I've only ever been to one before, and that was because I was walking past and heard my pal Jack Wilson's voice pumping out into the street. It was a hot summer afternoon, it was sunny, the windows were open, Jack was maybe even wearing shorts, and I hadn't seen his band play for a while. This time, I actually went on purpose because the place was hosting a couple artists I've been wanting to see for a while: Thrift Store Cowboys and Amanda Shires.
The Comet looks and feels (and smells) like it was constructed from day-old PBR and distressed cardboard. It's got character, that's for sure. What it hasn't got is a respectable sound system, which is fine if you're a loud indie rock band there for no reason other than to rock the hell out, do some crazy guitar-shredding kicks, and spill your beer on the monitors.
It's not so fine if you're a pleasantly gifted fiddler with a nuanced voice and a collection of songs which rely heavily on intuitive arrangements and clever lyricism. So, as it were, Amanda Shires played as well she could, I think. I believe that, at least, because I was enthralled with her delivery, despite the fact that I couldn't tell what was coming out of her mouth. I've since heard tell that she blew some minds down in Nashville last weekend, and I believe that too. And I've watched video where the sound is better, and feel confident suggesting to anyone reading this that you should make a point of checking her out when she comes to your town. I'll hope next time she gets booked at the Tractor or Conor Byrne, where the people running the sound know better what to do with acoustic instruments and the singer-songwriters who wield them. In the meantime, here's a terrific performance Shires gave for the fine folks over at MusicFog:
The headliners this night, however, Thrift Store Cowboys, came off on those sticky speakers at least a little bit better. Hailing from Lubbock, Tex., these guys drew a small but loyal crew of Texas transplants out for a late Sunday night of roadhouse-like country rock. Shires used to play fiddle for them before striking out to Nashville on her own. The tour they're on now means a reunion of sorts, and I could tell both she and the band enjoyed being back on the road together for a spell. Of course, even though their music rocked quite a bit harder than Shires', the sound system still left a bit to be desired. Can't fault the band, though, their energy and musicianship was tight. Here's some video of them a few nights prior, on more functional speakers, for an idea:
They have a handful of shows remaining on this jaunt, and you can check their dates on MySpace.