BR5-49 – Johnny D’s (Boston, MA)
I always jokingly refer to Boston as the alternative-country capital of the United States. You see, we don’t have much of that hip twang up here. We’ve got a lot of alternative rock, hardcore, folk (boy, do we have folk — yawn), and even some good bluegrass. What we don’t have is the grange. The insurgent country. All you really need to do, in fact, is drive two hours west to Northampton, and you’ll find the exact opposite: alterna-country all over the damn place.
So it was with much surprise when I turned the corner into Davis Square where Johnny D’s is located to find a line stretching from here to the farmland of central Massachusetts. These people were braving the coldest night in recent history (the temperature was about 300 below zero, and the wind chill was close to 520 below, I swear), all to see Nashville’s much-hyped and ballyhooed BR5-49. Sure enough, they came onstage with their snazzy retro suits and “aw shucks” attitude and proceeded to blow the roof off the jam-packed, sold-out place, doing a mix of originals from their new self-titled album and near-perfect old classics from the likes of Jimmie Rodgers, Johnny Cash, Bob Wills, Gram Parsons and some guy named Hank Sr.
Starting with “Even If It’s Wrong”, the first track off their album, BR5-49 kept us all hootin’ and hollerin’ (as if we were really Southerners or something) right up until the very end. And this is where I think BR5-49 succeeds: They got a bunch of New Englanders to actually hoot and holler. They got those kids that I usually see lined up outside the rock shows stompin’ their feet and yee-hooing. (By the way, I spelled “yee-hooing” wrong on purpose because I’m from New England.)
I sat there and wondered, though: Was it the music that brought these folks in, or was it the young, good-looking retro image — dare I say “shtick” — of the band? My guess is a little of both. For every great original like “Little Ramona (Gone Hillbilly Nuts)” and “Chains of This Town”, there were the dead-on renditions of Gram Parsons’ “Big Mouth Blues” and Jim Reeves “She’s Gone”. That’s the way they do it, and they do it to perfection: They draw you into the corner with the youthful energy, the boy-next-door banter and songs like “Me and Opie” (brilliantly done), then provide the knockout punch by playing their arses off for two hours and some change. It’s downright fun. Pure and simple.