Zoe Muth’s Been Gone, But She Makes It Up to Seattle
Autumn rolled into Seattle in a very wet way last night, soaking the picnic tables and flatbed stage which comprise the outdoor performance space at Slim’s Last Chance Chili Shack. Located on the industrial outskirts of Georgetown, Slim’s is as close as Seattle gets to a genuine South Texas icehouse, two worlds which find their nexus in Zoe Muth, the Seattle-bred country traditionalist whose music has flourished since she relocated to Austin in early 2013.
Relegated to the indoors and surrounded by three members of her band, The Lost High Rollers, Muth had a confession to make. “I’m not totally sold on Austin, Texas,” she said. Granted, that remark may have been partially intended to placate her loyal fans in the hometown she abandoned, and she spent the balance of the night giving them songs to dance and sing along to.
For an artist with a relatively new album (the exceptional World of Strangers) that she might like to sell a few copies of at the merch table, Muth bravely devoted much of her 16-song set to old favorites, drawing far more heavily off 2011’s Starlight Hotel than her latest LP. Onstage, Muth is workmanlike and stoic, almost to a fault. Dressed in a red cowgirl shirt, bluejeans and brown boots, her tresses of blonde hair falling lazily over her shoulders, Muth lamented the fact that she’d ruined a pair of pants on the tour bus with permanent marker while writing out her set list.
“They shouldn’t even make permanent markers,” joked the former preschool teacher, not long before launching into a cover of John Prine’s “Maureen, Maureen.”
Besides The Lost High Rollers, Muth was joined onstage for over half of her set by harmony vocalists Joy Mills and Tom Parker—aka “The Starlings”—who opened the evening as the Joy Mills Band. “If anyone has ever taken a picture of me smiling onstage, it’s probably because they’re up there with me,” remarked Muth, winking at her stoic demeanor.
But Muth hasn’t much use for affectations or aesthetics. Her band is ultra-tight, and her tracks are more energetic when rendered live, which led to a steady stream of two-steppers shuffling around Slim’s tiny dance floor. Meanwhile, in the front row, two middle-aged men sang along to literally every lyric, while an uncharacteristically unpretentious Seattle crowd let Shiner Bock and steel strings snap them out of their post-Bumbershoot malaise.
As a songwriter, Muth is straightforward. While occasionally she leans a bit too heavily on chicken-fried boilerplates like bars, booze and love gone askew, clever turns of phrase have the tropes well outnumbered. It’s the sort of stuff that sticks with you, delivered by an angelic voice that’s cut with just the right ratio of gravel.
Set List, Slim’s Last Chance, Seattle, 9/2/14:
Only Believe Me When I’m Lying
Make Me Change My Mind
Before the Night Is Gone
Hey Little Darlin’
Mama Needs a Margarita
Harvest Moon Blues
Hard Luck Love
Let’s Just Be Friends for Tonight
Maureen, Maureen (John Prine)
I’ve Been Gone
Wasting My Time
Lungs (Townes Van Zandt)
If I Can’t Trust You With a Quarter