Rodney Crowell – McGonigel’s Mucky Duck (Houston, TX)
Like the great line from “She’s Crazy For Leavin'”, Rodney Crowell knows when he is in Houston he’s playing “to a busload of honkies who never forget.” His rare homecoming gigs always seem to turn into what my buddy calls white trash cultural experiences, with the familiarity and comfort of home turf providing the Houston Kid the leeway to chuck the usual set list and mix things up, to reach back and touch those Gulf-Coast-beer-joint-on-a-hot-Saturday-night roots where it all started, to get back to the kind of music where the roughnecks, pipeliners and shrimpers don’t care what you call it, it just better have plenty of rhythm and plenty of bottom and my girl better wanna dance to it or trouble might start — even though there’s no place to dance in McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, the city’s premier listening room.
Crowell touched often on Houston themes and mileposts during his two separate shows on this Wednesday night. In the first, guitarist Will Kimbrough was even test-driving a locally manufactured Robin six-string; Crowell gave him plenty of room to go nuts on an earth-shaking cover of “Respect Yourself”, which segued into the tonk anthem “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This”, which continues to resonate when set among Crowell’s newer material. Even Crowell seemed genuinely surprised by the fire in Kimbrough’s fingers.
With the audience for the second show seated and served, Crowell set the tone for the rest of the night with the opener. For all the autobiographical material on his last two albums, no song demonstrates Crowell’s Gulf Coast musical upbringing more than his 1981 single “Stars On The Water”. He torched the tiny club with it, and for the next two hours leaned hard into his Ship Channel blue-collar raisin’ with songs such as “Highway 17”, “Rock Of My Soul”, “Fate’s Right Hand”, and a blistering “Telephone Road”. Celebrating the old days and recalling the old things and old ways, Crowell regaled the crowd with tender memories of his childhood in South Houston. His message was clear: There’s no shame in the circumstances you were born into. The shame is if you don’t change yourself or go somewhere else, somewhere you manage to find goodness and decency.
Giving the crowd a momentary breather, Crowell took it down a notch and touched another Texana nerve with “What Kind Of Love Is This”, which he introduced as “the last song Roy Orbison ever wrote.” From here on out, it all turned rowdy; for all his facets and nuances and Nashville success, if Crowell is anything he is a rocker at heart. Gauging his audience, he amped it up for the home stretch to last call with a monumental version of Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” and a testosterone-charged standard Gulf Coast three-chord rave-up from the earliest Pasadena honky-tonk dive days, “I’m An Old Pipeliner”.
The sum of three-plus hours locked in such a small space with Crowell leaves the impression that, like Dave Alvin, Crowell is in touch with so many elements of Americana it would take an encyclopedia to unravel the influences and sources. And now that Gilley’s is “located” in Dallas, some of us left with the idea that what Houston needs is a club called Crowell’s.