by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor’s Note: The Night Shift: The Come Up is a three-part installment about Flatland Calvary, Dalton Domino, and Wade Bowen playing in Midland on Saturday, August 29. This is the third and final piece. For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here.
“Dalton…Dalton…Dalton, we’re here. Get up.”
That’s the voice of Domino’s girlfriend, Shelby Jones. We’re crammed in her small sports car. I keep bonking my head on the frame each time we get in or out. We’re pulling into our third and final La Quinta Inn in the Odessa-Midland area. It’s four in the morning. The first was wrong and kind of funny. The second was locked. Someone finally answered their cell phone and let us know exactly how wrong we were and let us know our keys would be in room 226.
The tuckered out songwriter grabs his hat and follows us inside.
We’ve been hanging out with Bowen and crew for a while talking about various things–mostly music. Bowen tells a few stories about his love for Springsteen and Drummer Jay Saldana’s first few weeks on the job. Saldana plays DJ. He’ll throw on his favorite Charlie Shafter tune, his favorite new songwriter, Tony Lane, and some Allman Brothers for good measure.
Domino comes from his trailer holding his turquoise acoustic. It’s rattled with black Sharpie with twenty or more signatures. He’s pressured into playing a tune. He goes into “7 Years.” Everyone’s hushed. He’s passes it to Cordero who too, is coaxed into playing a song. Bowen sits watching with a shake of his head every once in a while.
Bowen isn’t chickenshit. He grabs the guitar and joins in on the one-song song-swap. He’ll be the last to play on the guitar.
“How old are you guys?” he asks after. Early twenties for both. He’s impressed and thinks out loud what everyone else is thinking: How are you kids writing such sad shit this early on?
They have the itch–that gift and curse.
Backtrack a few hours and Domino and company are coming off stage to met by proud parents and a sudden realization that they need to clear everything off stage. Quick breath. Start packing instruments. Pull the van and trailer around. Back it up. Start the game of Tetris.
Flatland Cavalry is grabbing their gear at the same time. Drummers Francis and Albers both have their drum thrones. They’re slick and look to have been made of excess fabric from Prince outfits.
Saldana takes his place on his own throne. There’s burning incense on his left and a sleeve of drum sticks to his right. He may as well be in the cockpit of a space shuttle. It’s as though you through Francis and Albers’ drum kits together. It’s impressive, but not over the top. Nothing is there for showboating or goes to waste.
Bowen and the guitar squad make their way out and go into “When I Woke Up Today,” the first track from Bowen’s self-titled 2014 release. For the next 90ish minutes, Bowen’s going through the staples and classics.
Staples and classics. Bowen would probably snicker at calling a wedge of his catalog staples or classics. He’ll often point out that his only Top 40 hit peaked at 39 with “Saturday Night” back in 2012. While he’s technically right, Bowen’s catalog is beginning to fill up with iconic and important moments in country music in the 21st century.
You’ll have a difficult time finding a songwriter in Texas who has had as good of a run the past few years than Bowen. Others are doing well and may even be selling out bigger places, etc, but with the release of Wade Bowen and Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 the last two years, you’re seeing an artist doing a number of things that are essential to making great music and driving a scene in good direction.
Bowen and Beer are a year removed from each other but going into different directions. Where Wade Bowen has great pop sensibilities and intimate ballads to balance the entire effort, the Randy Rogers collaborated Hold My Beer, pulls on classic, traditional strings with a punch of fun-loving honky-tonk exercises. But both are albums that are just right for country music in 2015.
Look out into the crowd and you see an ocean of voices singing along with Bowen. They’re packed in tight, but not uncomfortable. There’s some two-step dancing of sorts in the rear and on the sides. The tables are packed and covered in beer cans and buckets of icy water.
Bowen’s band all have wireless rigs. They’re able to walk around freely and do as they please. Guitarists Todd Laningham and Will Knaak switch sides from time to time. They come together. Bowen steps towards the side here and there and let’s them gleam in the limelight as they exchange solos and licks. Often, they raise their guitar heads towards the heavens as though they’re about out to play the intro to “Sweet Child of Mine” or “Thunderstruck.”
Bassist Caleb Jones is a mountain of a man. He wields it as though he’s grasping Robert Baratheon’s warhammer (Sorry for getting Game of Thrones super-nerdy on you there for a minute). It looks like it could be just as tall as Bowen–though, that’s probably just the forced perspective of where we’re sitting.
Though they’ll probably just chalk it up as organized chaos, Bowen and company moving in and around stage is often just as on point as their playing. It’s a ballet of sorts. It’s a football play with Laningham, Knaak, and Jones running passing routes.
Bowen walks towards the drum riser that takes up the back half of the stage. There’s a microphone there that’s plugged straight into the band’s ear as well as their guitar technician standing at his post directly underneath us. Sometimes, Bowen will say something into it. A couple of shots of Fireball will be made for the band.
“He pounds on those drums so hard,” says an awed Francis sitting behind me. He’s talking about Saldana’s buffet of drum hammers and hits. He tosses a couple of sticks over his shoulder and grabs another pair in one fluid motion. It’s seamless.
Bowen talks about the aforementioned Hold My Beer and his longing to make an album that was a timeless vintage country record. Pure country. One that looked like it came out on vinyl and eight-track only. He goes into small samples of country gold from yesteryear. Saldana caps it off with his own “Linda On My Mind” croon.
They go into “‘Til It Does,” a country sad ballad man co-penned by Bowen, Lee Thomas Miller, and Country’s latest darling, Chris Stapleton. It hits the spot.
They plow through “Standards,” “West Texas Rain,” and “Mood Ring” before capping the night off in appropriate fashion with “Saturday Night.”
Bowen flicks guitar picks out into the crowd. Some five or six people are luckily enough to grab them. He sets his guitar off on the stand in the back of the stage and walks off stage right. Everyone else follows with a roaring applause crashing down behind them.
And if you were still wondering, yeah, Lubbock’s alive and well.