Dale Watson / Hangdogs – Lynagh’s (Lexington, KY)
Dale Watson is as close as there is these days to a pure, old-fashioned country performer. He looks, dresses, sings and writes the part. Hell, he even acts the part, most recently in a new video for Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison”. (“They shot it in Dallas,” Watson announced from the stage. “They had me in the same cell where they held Lee Harvey Oswald.”)
A major part of Watson’s stage show has always been devoted to encouraging his audience to not just enjoy his work, but to check out the songs of his beloved country music predecessors. At Lynagh’s, Watson and his band (Billy “Dee” Donahue on bass, Ricky Davis on steel guitar, Scott Matthew on drums) played 32 songs, with a dozen or so of Watson’s own tear-stained compositions complemented by a substantial sampling of covers from the honky-tonk archives.
Watson opened with newer material from his upcoming album, including a song about getting drunk at a past show at Lynagh’s called “Kentucky In A Spin”. But he really hit stride with his scathing sendup of contemporary Nashville music peddlers, the neo-traditional anthem “Nashville Rash” (“I’m too country now for country, just like Johnny Cash”). Watson followed with a “mandatory Merle Haggard” cover (“Mama Tried”) and generally straight-ahead interpretations of songs associated with Cash, Ray Price, George Jones, Charlie Rich and Ernest Tubb.
If Watson aimed for a sort of honky-tonk fidelity, with every song placed squarely in the country music tradition (circa 1960s), the night’s opening act, New York City band the Hangdogs, went for something more mutt-like and eclectic. There was plenty of country in lead singer Matthew Grimm’s wonderful twang-in-pain vocals (and in the playing of Kevin Baier on drums, Automatic Slim on lead guitar, and Kevin Karg, on loan from the Rolling Hayseeds, on bass), but there was also plenty of punk, blues and rock ‘n’ roll thrown in to keep things unpredictable.
At one point, a drunk in the audience screamed out the ultimate Southern compliment: “Y’all ain’t from New York!” Grimm offered to show his New York driver’s license, but it was obvious that the band’s sound is equally at home south of the Mason-Dixon.