Ex-husbands – Lounge Ax (Chicago, IL)
Getting an audience to listen to your music is always tough for a new band, especially in the tiny little corner of the musical universe that is alternative country (whatever etc.). It means playing opening slots for shows in faraway towns hoping an audience cares, or even shows up.
That’s what the Ex-Husbands were up to on this night, opening for a couple of acts on local Bloodshot Records, playing for a handful of early birds, barflys and the curious, and even a few fans who owned their debut CD on the small indie label Tar Hut.
The Ex-Husbands play a combination of straightforward honky-tonk and ’70s country rock with more than a little of the mainstream ’90s Nashville sound. This is no small feat given the narrow confines of the band’s classic power-trio lineup (bass, drums, singer-guitarist). While this lineup has worked for rock bands ranging from Cream to Husker Du, it’s not often seen in country music, given the music’s vocal and instrumental demands.
It helps to have a major talent out front, and on this night, singer, songwriter and guitarist Anders Thomsen showed he just might have the stuff to pull it off. While bass player Michael Howard Smith and drummer Mark Miller laid down a swinging rhythmic foundation and sweet backing vocals, Thomsen delivered a variety of styles on guitar, from some nifty pickin’ on a Bill Monroe cover to gutbucket slide on “Tequila, Salt & Lime”.
But it’s Thomsen’s vocals that make this band a treat. A classic country baritone along the lines of Merle Haggard or Waylon Jennings, it’s a sound that makes it easy to overlook the fact that the band’s best songs (such as “I Have A Ball” and “Johnny Walker Redneck”) are way too tongue-in-cheek to be put on a par with the work of these masters.
The songs a band chooses to cover live are often a good indication of where they’re coming from and where they’re headed. Toward the end of the set, the Ex-Husbands launched into a rendition of Junior Brown’s “Too Many Nights In A Roadhouse”, and the place really started jumping. The best performance of the night followed, a cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Hottest Thing In Town”. The fact that Thomsen introduced it by saying that Shaver had asked him to play it was probably the best indication that the Ex-Husbands are a band to keep your eyes and ears open for.