by: Thomas D. Mooney
“Aww shit.”–Red Shahan
Downtown is a ghost town. For blocks in all directions, buildings lay dormant. Lights off, doors shut. Shadows of the few walking become etched on the side of buildings and on the pavement by the occasional passing of headlights. The streets are wide open and parking lots vacant.
Walk down an alley way on 18th and Buddy Holly and you’ll see two giant swinging doors propped open. One has a gargantuan Shiner Bock bottle cap mounted on it as some sort of family crest for the patrons inside.
The last few Sundays, The Blue Light has been open in the most casual of ways. The inside is blocked off. No main stage. No Tom’s. Just bathrooms. The patio becomes more of a casual beer garden. Bands play. Songwriters sing. Real casual.
I should be watching True Detective. Instead, I’m sitting on the patio surrounded by all-day barbecuers, tank top and flip-flop wearers, and dollar Lone Star drinkers–note, those groups have plenty of crossover–with their own set of vices.
Tonight, it’s supposed to be a hodgepodge of Lubbock musicians: Brandon Adams, Justin Lentz, Parker Morrow, Jerry, Serrano, Red Shahan, Nic Shute, and Craig Tally.
“Who the hell knows if Red even shows up,” mutters Morrow with a lit cigarette dangling from his lips. 10 minutes later, he’s walking in the side with a guitar case.
The corner stage is crammed with cases, a couple of double-stacked speakers, a line of monitors, a couple of keyboards, a drum kit, pedal boards, a few dozen plastic shot glasses with remnants of Fireball and Jager , two acoustic guitars, an electric, a growing mass of congregating beer bottles, an ashtray, two trumpets, some painted background art from Bristen Phillips, a few lit lines of Christmas lights, four or five microphones set for vocals, seven musicians, and a few half-empty packs of assorted cigarettes.
“Don’t judge us,” Adams says walking towards the stage. “It’s not like we’re practiced–or whatever, do what you want. I can’t tell you what to do.”
Shahan sets things in motion armed with a guitar and his back to the crowd. People turn from their beer pong games for a second or two before their attempting throws that glance off cup rims. Shahan is less mumbly than usual. Morrow goes into “Peach Pickin'”–the laid back groove and harmony-filled Black Lillies tune. Adams follows up with “Dreams.”
From then on, Adams mainly plays new songs that’ll be on his upcoming EP. Shahan goes back into some old Vityl songs. Morrow plays a few covers and a few originals. His song “Memo,” it’s better than he thinks. He’s “over it” but still plays it so I’m not sure how honest that assessment is.
It’s a peaceful, easy Sunday. You’re not obligated to go stand in the front of the stage. People circle the bar with their own conversations about the DeAndre Jordan fiasco, their thoughts on the latest Turnpike Troubadours tune “Down Here,” and my personal favorite, whether we give out too many handshakes down here (My argument is that when you’re leaving your favorite haunt, institution, or backyard barbecue, telling everyone goodbye with individual handshakes and hugs is time-consuming where a wave and walk away while is not as personal or intimate, is way more time-effective and gets the job done. It’s as though those people are going to feel slighted or disrespected–and if they are, they’ll get over it.)
The music plays on with Shahan, Adams, and Morrow exchanging songs as Lentz and company keep the beat. Serrano and Shute, in their auxiliary corner, add double-trumpet harmonies here and there. At other times, they go back and forth. They switch spots. In their own ways, Adams, Shahan, and Morrow are enthralled by their play. Singing grins or full-on turns towards them to see just what the hell they’re doing.
Between songs, the three songwriters draw up the play for the next song. They’re orchestrating. Typically, you’d throw out the “they’re jamming” label on something like this. But, it’s not really a jam in the jam band kind of way. There’s certainly improvised parts, but it’s more of a jazz free flow than anything else.
They take a break, order a shot of this and a beer of that. Ask if it sounded good, etc. Serrano head back to the stage and plays a few acoustic ballads of his own before the rest of the wrecking crew joins him.
Whiskeytown covers. “East Side River Snake.” “Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”
Adams goes into “Then We Left Town.”
“I fucking love this song so much, ” Bristen Phillips says towards me. I concur. It sparks a question and comment: There’s not many–if any–songs from the last 15 years that have a direct and clear reference to The Blue Light or the like. “Then We Left Town” may be the most straightforward “Blue Light” song of its’ time, yet still, it’s cryptic and could be about anywhere.
“There are songs with lines about Blue Light, but they aren’t obvious in a cheesy way,” says Phillips. “That’s what I like about this. It could be about a hundred different bars. But it’s about this place. You wouldn’t know that unless you knew this place.”
It’s true. Most songs that try and have that forced line about a place usually come off as cheesy and gilded with insincerity.
Shahan starts playing what could be his best new song, “Coyotes.” It’s a slow burner that could go on forever. I wouldn’t mind them playing it for the next hour. The rhythm section lays down a Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac type beat (Thanks for the description Danny Cadra) while the soul of the song is pure cowboy blues. It’s a lonesome song.
There’s a new moon on the rise. Shahan is on point with his own cowboy/coyote howl.