Waco Brothers / Sally Timms – Corner Hotel (Melbourne, Australia)
Many a singer-songwriter, or a low-volume band, would love to play the Corner Hotel on a night like this. The high-capacity rock ‘n’ roll venue had transformed itself into a “listening room,” its floor space made more intimate with velvet curtains, and an attentive, not-yet-drunk audience was seated at candlelit tables. These are not, however, optimum conditions for a Waco Brothers gig.
“You’re all sitting down,” the amiable Jon Langford exclaimed. “That’s weird. Weird.” He paused for a moment before kick-starting his fellow Wacos into “Cowboys In Flames” at breakneck speed. From thence, the band played to a crowded, sweaty, rowdy beer barn of their own imagining, and the seated listeners began to catch on to the spirit of the gig, slapping their thighs, stomping their feet.
The Wacos had to work pretty hard to shake the crowd out of the after-dinner mellowness that had set in during Sally Timms’ opening set. Despite some salty between-song banter, in which Timms (perhaps deliberately) mistook “wombat” for a ribald Australian colloquialism, her performance was a little low-spirited. Accompanied by Langford on acoustic guitar and Dean Schlabowske on electric guitar, Timms went through the paces of cover tunes such as Hugh Moffatt’s “Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You)” and Fred Rose’s “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”, as well as a few selections from her last album, Cowboy Sally’s Twilight Laments For Lost Buckaroos.
Timms sang beautifully, but did not appear to be enjoying herself on stage. “Sorry everyone,” she replied sarcastically to good-natured hecklers, “we’re not on much longer.” Langford lightened things up, responding to a Gram Parsons request by improvising an absurd legend about “Greg Parsons,” a Nudie legpad-wearing cricketer who died in sordid circumstances involving a hotel room and a cricket ball. “Don’t laugh,” he protested as the audience went into fits of giggles. “It’s a lonely life, the life of the cricketer. You can’t imagine the pressure!”
The pressure was on, though, for the Wacos to win over the audience — a task they approached with gusto. The band members’ synchronized rock-pose leaps and swaggers, combined with a deafening volume and big, chainsaw-guitar riffs, quickly raised pulse rates in the room. The audience’s blood-alcohol count also seemed to have risen, perhaps inspired by the onstage evidence of partaking and its uproarious effects.
The band tore through a repertoire drawn evenly from their five Bloodshot releases, with “Do What I Say”, “Harm’s Way” and Lonesome Bob’s “Do You Think About Me” going down particularly well, a full-throated Langford alternating with the deeper-grained Schlabowske on lead vocal and guitar. By the time they came back for an encore, the Wacos’ conquest was complete: The tables had been pushed to the side of the room, chairs were kicked aside, and a throng of happy punters were dancing and cheering. “Pigsville” and “Red Brick Wall” from Wacoworld got a raucous reception, but it was the two closing numbers — George Jones’ “White Lightning” and Johnny Cash’s “Big River” — that sealed the deal for a crowd that had seemed, until now, mostly unfamiliar with all things Waco.
It is never easy for an underexposed band to make an impact on overseas shores, but the Waco Brothers left their audience sated, sweaty and slightly inebriated. And if that was good enough for them, it was more than good enough for us.