Richard Buckner – Schubas (Chicago, IL)
Even ten years past Anodyne and nearly twenty past Fear And Whiskey, three decades since Gram Parsons died in the desert and five since Elvis Presley first played the Opry, there’s still plenty of unmapped frontier in the roots-rock world. And both Richard Buckner and Bobby Bare Jr. are blazing new trails.
Buckner once followed Townes Van Zandt’s footsteps. Now he’s off in the underbrush with a bolo and a scythe — or, at least, on his latest disc, Impasse, a Dano and a synth.
Onstage for the first of two shows at Schubas, Buckner delivered new tunes that seemed searching and often angry, and he altered the old ones with different rhythms, changed tempos, or unfamiliar phrasing.
In his 1998 song “10 Day Room”, Buckner sang of “clouded calls and careful storms.” Though that tune wasn’t among the two dozen in this set, the phrase fit his solo sound. Between “Raze” and “Ed’s Song”, he used effects pedals to sample and loop bits of guitar noise that loomed like threatening clouds. The same trick fused the ringing echoes of “Pull” to the droning harmonium intro of “(A Year Ahead) & A Light”.
In “Born Into Giving It Up”, his electric lead crackled like lightning in a haze of feedback and reverb. “The windows shook and showed us out,” he shouted in “Hoping Wishers Never Lose”. Just as quickly his rumble was a sigh: “There was nothing new to try.”
But even the most familiar of Buckner’s songs offered something unexpected. He toyed with timing and rolled words around in his mouth (“Ah honey, you let me in and you lllllay me out”). He whispered his way through “Believer” and “Ocean Cliff Clearing”, then scraped and squalled out “A Goodbye Rye”. And with a subtle shift in “4am”, he seemed to acknowledge the recent dissolution of his second marriage: “Wasted and well spent,” he sang, “taken and twice wrecked.”
Buckner’s sonic explorations were partly overshadowed by an opening act that’s working different if less rocky terrain. Bobby Bare Jr.’s recent solo debut, Young Criminals Starvation League, veers from his customary straight-up southern rock. With help from a posse of Nashville pals (among them several members of Lambchop), the album melds Memphis and Minneapolis sounds as well as anything since Pleased To Meet Me.
Wary of Buckner’s solo sound being dwarfed, the venue asked Bare to play acoustic. But when Bare greeted fans with a shouted recitation of Shel Silverstein’s poem “I Lied”, then launched into a pounding take on “The Monk At The Disco”, it was clear he had either ignored the request or sweet-talked around it.
The Young Criminals songs are sweaty and soulful on record, but Bare’s touring band — including the hard-hitting rhythm section of Donnie Schroder and Tom Pappas, vocalist Holly Williams, and his usual guitarist Kevin Teel — added muscle. The stage was crowded and the sound even stronger on “Flat Chested Girl From Maynardville” and “The Ending”, which featured a three-piece horn section led by Chicago local and Lambchop honker Deanna Varagona on baritone sax.
The rollicking first set did diminish Buckner’s impact, but the crowd wasn’t complaining. As Bare and his band morphed “Monk” into a swinging cover of the Smiths’ “What Difference Does It Make”, they were too busy dancing.