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Last Night: Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters at House of Blues

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Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters House of Blues July 24, 2008

Better than: Watching Hearts Afire on DVD.

What do you think of when you see the term actor/musician? Do you think of someone who is great at both, like Zooey Deschanel? Or do you think of someone who’s good at one and sucks at the other, like Jon Bon Jovi?

Now, what about Billy Bob Thornton?

I was intrigued to see if Billy Bob’s version of Roots and Americana music--or as he calls it “electric Hillbilly”--was any good. Sure, he sounds decent on recordm but can he pull it off live? Without the luxury of studio magic?

I got my answer as soon as Billy Bob stepped out onto the stage.

He and his band were smartly dressed in Beatle-esque suits and met with screams reminiscent of Beatle-mania from the ladies in the crowd.

Before the stage lights even came up, Thornton got down to business as he lit his cigarette and held the microphone and the band tore into the beer goggle ode “She’s Lookin’ Better By The Minute.”

Thornton and the band, with their mod-meets-honky tonk twang flowed effortlessly through their set, and the frontman seemed at ease at the microphone. His on-stage banter was quite entertaining, too, as he spoke of his love of the television show “Cops” and told the crowed that some of the best episodes he’s seen were based in Fort Worth. He controlled the stage and worked the crowd like a true musical showman.

The music of The Boxmasters is bona fide honky tonk, full of humor and wit, most notably in the song, and nothing exemplified this more than “Poor House.” This song could have been written by just about any one of the older people I knew growing up in a small rural Southern town: The husband has let his family down with a series of unfortunate choices; he’s a drunk, stoner and unemployedh nonehteless, he’s going to save the family house because he has a plan...

As we came to the intermission, Thornton told the crowd they would be back in 15 to 20 minutes and that they would be louder and more obnoxious. He wasn’t lying--the crowd was able to see two very different musical versions of Billy Bob Thornton.

If the Boxmaster set was “electric hillbilly” then the second set was pure rock 'n' roll hell-raiser, as Thornton and band laid into his solo material.

He seemed more at ease on the stage during the rock set as he strutted around the stage winking at the ladies in the crowd. At one point, the band went into an extended jam session and Billy walked along the edge of the stage, shook hand with fans and kissed several women. The highlight of the second set was their cover of the Ramones “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and Thornton’s own “Hope For Glory” off his last solo effort Beautiful Door.

All things considered, The Boxmasters and Billy Bob Thornton put on a great live show. What Thornton may lack in vocal ability was made up for with a confident stage presence and showmanship.

Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: I’m not sure what was going on with the PA system during the second set, but it was way out of whack. There were several songs where the bass was mixed way up and distorted the sound to the point where you couldn’t understand anything coming out of his mouth.

Random Note: Do you think Mr. Thornton decided the name The Carpet Bangers was just too much of a double entendre so he opted for The Boxmasters?

By The Way: Apparently it’s a mandatory cougar night whenever Billy Bob Thornton is in town. Place was packed with ‘em. --Lance Lester

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