Jason and the Scorchers 30th Anniversary Tour – Cluny, Newcastle
What a joy and honour it was to be at the final night of the Scorchers’ 30th Anniversary Tour and, before we go any further – THIRTY YEARS! Where has the time gone?
Carrying a couple of extra pounds around the midriff than he did when posing for the cover of the Reckless Country Soul EP in 1981, Warner E Hodges led Al Collins and drummer Pontus Snibb onto the stage before the legendary Jason Ringenberg made his ‘entrance’. And what an entrance it was!
Complimenting his trademark battered, rhinestone-encrusted Stetson with a floor length huntsman red Drifter coat with tassels and sequins, the singer launched into a 100mph Lost Highway that had a group of Warner E Hodges look-a-likes dancing like dervishes.
Allegedly, the Scorchers invented Cow-Punk and that’s as good a description as I can think of. They have a swagger that I haven’t seen since the heydays of the Punk Revolution.
Ever the showman, Jason dad-danced all night. His stories that serve as a prelude to some of the songs, are always as funny as they are enlightening. The one before Victory Road was as well told as always, and the punchline received a roar that kicked the song into a new stratosphere.
The mention of Steve Earle in the preamble to Bible and a Gun reminded me that, back in the day, these guys were not only bigger than Earle, but a major influence on his early writing. Bible and a Gun hasn’t lost an ounce of its power in the years since it was written.
Although the Anniversary Tour was a great excuse to play the hits et cetera, I was pleased to hear a few songs from the recent HALCYON DAYS album get squeezed into the running order – especially my favorite: the coal mining song Beat on the Mountain. It was louder and even more passionate than the album version and it received a rapturous reception from an audience brought up in or on the outskirts of our own coalfields in the North of England.
Half way through the set, Jason introduced a brand new song written by Hodges for the tour called Thanks For The Ride. It was an absolute tour de force, nearly shaking the rafters of the Victorian building.
More songs from a long and memorable career came and went leaving the band and audience covered in sweat and puffing and panting until Jason decided to hold a competition to ‘find the most obscure Scorchers song’ that the fans could think of. It could be my suspicious mind, but I think some people were making songs up, even if Jason did ‘remember’ them! The joint winners were Ruby (don’t take your love to town) and Polk Salad Annie, which gained the winners a bottle of beer and a cold Cola. Both songs got a full throttle work out, even if Al Collins had to work out the bass lines as the songs rattled along!
Being the professionals they are, the band actually paced the set to suit their ages now – not everything can be 100mph when you are in your 50’s! This gave us the most poignant moment of the evening. As Scorchers fans will know, founding member and drummer extraordinaire Perry Baggs died in July, leaving Ringenberg to give a eulogy before calling Pontus Snibb from behind the drum kit to accompany him on Somewhere Within (which he’d wrote with Baggs many years previously). You could visibly see the lumps in throats and teary eyes as the odd couple harmonized as if they’d been singing the song every day of their lives.
Soon after, Warner got to let rip again with It Gets Good (But it Don’t Get Better Than This). He wrote it for the Dan Baird Band but it could easily have been a Scorchers song.
By now the packed Cluny was like a pressure cooker and, following guttural calls all night, the gig ended with a rowdy sing-a-long Broken Whisky Glass and Mona Lee.
To no one’s surprise the band quickly returned to encore with the song ‘that took them out of the bars’ – Absolutely Sweet Marie. I’ve got four versions of them singing this and have seen them play it live anther three, but none of them came close to tonight’s countriest-bluesiest roadhouse rocker!
The band and audience were having the time of their lives. Not a soul wanted the evening to end, especially after the absolute final song, White Lies, which just may have shaded it as song of the night.
As the lights came on and we started filtering up the steps to the main bar, there was a cheer from behind us and Warner and Al were running back on stage and plugging in their guitars causing mayhem as we tried to regain our vantage points.
With Jason grinning like a maniac, the guitars were turned to 11 and it took me a minute to recognize the tune – Take Me Home (Country Roads)!
What could have been a more fitting epitaph to the band that put rock into country?