Backsliders – Last Day Saloon (San Francisco, CA)
The Backsliders wear their influences with pride, though it’s clear they didn’t just pick those influences up last year by listening to a few Byrds and Hank Williams records. They grew up listening to the classics of all eras from George Jones to the Stones to the Clash, to name just a few of the touchstones you can hear in their music. The result melds all of these sounds so seamlessly, you know it couldn’t be an accident: These guys were raised to play this music.
Nevertheless, they were up against tall odds in San Francisco. They were opening for local alterna-twang-rock faves Dieselhed at a neighborhood tavern called the Last Day Saloon, not exactly one of SF’s higher-profile venues. The potential was there for a less-than-satisfying gig — but as it turned out, there was no need to worry. The Backsliders delivered an incendiary set of their self-described “hard-core honky-tonk” to the 40 or so folks who came to see them, and also captured the attention of more than a few of Dieselhed’s fans, who had begun the evening leaning on their hands.
From the moment singer Chip Robinson greeted the audience with “Hey, Myrtle Beach, how ya doin’, it’s good to be back,” there was never any question that they might be just another opening band. With that, they ripped into “My Baby’s Gone”, a fast-paced honky-tonkin’ dance number propelled by the drumming of Jeff “J.D.” Dennis that also kicks off their Mammoth Records debut album Throwin’ Rocks At The Moon. From there, the band didn’t let up for over an hour, finally closing with “Hey Sheriff”, a tale of an ill-fated Friday night run-in with the local constabulary. Guitarists Steve Howell and Brad Rice eventually rip through the song’s loping, underlying tension, leaving Robinson to pace the stage manically between them, in the grips of a demon only he knows.
In between were a couple of full-tilt rockers, “Throwing Rocks At The Moon” and “If I Was King”, both of which are filled with catchy hooks, and the mournful ballad “Last Train”, which Robinson introduced as being about the decline of the railroads and dedicated to Henry Ford and Ronald Reagan. Another great moment came with “Number Five”, a ’50s-ish tribute to “one of the best bands ever to come out of the fine state of South Carolina” which Robinson then dedicated to “all the Swingin’ Medallions fans out there.”
From the countrier side of the jukebox, they offered a dose of good ol’ honky-tonk in the guise of “Lonely Avenue” and “Lonesome Teardrops”, both of which featured vocal turns by Howell, and the rollicking “Cowboy Boots”, a tune made for two-stepping while sending up the “new-hot-young-country” scene in the process. Many of the more countrified tunes were sparked by uncanny guitar interplay between Howell and Rice, trading lead licks back and forth with an effortless grace only first-rate players can manage.
Add to those a couple of new songs that were every bit as good as the ones they’ve recorded, and a cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ “High Fashion Queen”, and you had a blistering set that proved the Backsliders are among the very best live bands playing rock ‘n’ roll, country, and everything in between.