Pine State – An echo, louder now
Just put aside all of the superficial cataclysmic spectacle-related bullshit — the uncontrolled onstage fires; the sledgehammered toilet; the raw chicken. The hulking 6-foot-8 freak in full basketball getup (plus gas mask), swinging wildly from the end of a leash. The band’s very own cigar-chomping, sombreroed attorney, Lemuel Huffines, hurling insults, pork brains and full cans of beer into the crowd from a rocking chair at the lip of the stage. Just put it all out of your mind.
I mean, shit, they never even followed through on their once-constant threats to unleash a cubic foot of mosquitoes on Chapel Hill’s near-sacred Cat’s Cradle nightclub. Sure, chainsaws and exploding television sets are semi-scary, but once you’ve backed down from the threat of 10,000 farm-raised, half-starved bloodsuckers, nothing else has quite the same ring.
So leave it all alone. The gaping, slackjawed masses may equate Pine State with a slimy, douche-and-cornstarch-covered gimp, careening through the crowd on a collapsing baby carriage, his hands on fire, but your smart, suave No Depression readership wants to know but one thing:
What the fuck does it sound like, baby?
It sounds like a renegade animatronic Hank Williams puppet, backed by the entire cast of Westworld, Yul Brynner and all, waging war onstage against the massed mechanical creations of those dorks out at Stanford or someplace, the ones who build gladiatorial robots out of go-carts, pirated fuzzy-logic circuits and giant circular saws.
When these Pine State boys cover Faron Young’s “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young”, you’d best believe they mean to achieve all three right now, as in while-u-friggin’-wait, Jim.
An early Pine State cassette was mostly just guitarist and founder C. Wiley Riser locked in a roomful of what sounded to be either slide guitars or sheet-metal sanders or both, scrambling his way through three of his own honky-tonk originals, plus a demented half-time cover of Superchunk’s “Slack Motherfucker”, while cymbals, trashcans and cardboard boxes imploded all around. It was damn-near No-Fi.
These days, ever since they kidnapped ace steel guitarist Nick Petti from Whiskeytown, shaved his head, and christened him Dr. Rock, the musical half of your typical Pine State show just about lives up to the standards set by the other half. Riser sets ’em up — songs like “King of Swagger”, with its tragic hero and his “two-inch withered pencil dick, stunted since his youth.” Dr. Rock knocks ’em down, with a stomp of the foot, a shake of his handmade horsey tail and a malicious grin.
And then The Gimp beats ’em to death with a crowbar.
There’s a reason for all the mayhem, hidden in the fact that Pine State are as likely to cover Pussy Galore as Merle Haggard. Pussy Galore dragged bluesy cock-rock out of its cushy hotel room, offa the back of the bus, and back down into the alleys and flophouses it grew out of, once upon a time when it was just the blues. Pine State, at their best, do exactly the same for country. Every axe-handle laid up against the blank dumb eye of a TV set is just an echo, louder now, of that fucked-up metallic hammering sound that rings, every eight beats, all the way through the Hag’s “Working Man Blues”. Only now, a quarter-century later, it’s got a different ring — the machine that’s gonna take your place is looming on the horizon, clanking, and it won’t be taking any time off for singing the blues.
So what’s left to do but pick up any handy length of pipe and start swinging? Blam! I believe that TV set was NAFTA. Smack! That toaster oven looked a little like Newt Gingrich. Crack! That teletype console is the goddamn Information Superhighway. If country music is the Music of the People, then Pine State are the shock troops in the war against the Enemies of the People, whatever their disguises.
Via e-mail (brother, you better know thine enemy), drummer Mike Shoffner explains it all — as if there were any doubt:
“The object is not to win, because the game is unwinnable. The object is to go out in STYLE.”