Last Night: Hayes Carll, Bobby Bare Jr. and Travis Linville at the Granada Theater

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Hayes Carll, Bobby Bare Jr. and Travis Linville
Granada Theater
December 30, 2010

Better than: attending an SMU fraternity keg party

About three songs into his set, country singer-songwriter Hayes Carll addressed his crowded Granada Theater audience and brought up the ticket cost of this particular performance.

"Twenty bucks?" a bemused Carll asked rhetorically. "You all could have stayed home and bought a case of Pabst and a porno movie."

The large crowd roared with laughter, and Carll, backed by his top notch quartet, went on with the next tune. But such comments are typical of the self-depreciating nature of Hayes Carll. His aw-shucks, hayseed persona is part of his style. His droll observations of the common person's life are what resonate most with his audience.

And, judging by the packed, multi-generational and well-inebriated crowd last night at the Granada, Carll is well on his way to resonating on a much larger scale.

When I first saw Carll, it was six years ago when he was opening for The Subdudes. Hardly anyone in the place even knew who he was, and, about five songs into his set, hecklers were yelling for Carll to get off the stage. The singer just smiled and played "Wish I Hadn't Stayed So Long," a remarkably mournful song from Carll's sophomore effort, Little Rock. I knew right then that this guy had "it" -- in this case, the sense of timing and the what-the-fuck drunken stubbornness that seems inherent in classic slacker songwriters like Carll, Paul Westerberg and even Elvis Costello. "Everything I do is cool," seems to be what Carll was saying at that show six years ago.. And he said it by just playing his own song.

Last night, his attitude was the same, but the environment was much different.

Since Carll's music slides comfortably to the traditional country side of the alt-country spectrum, he seems to have attracted a fan base that resembles that of the Old 97's circa 1995 -- i.e. a lot of fraternity brothers and sorority sisters who feel like they are getting into something on the ground floor, even though Carll has been making music for nearly a decade.

For these folks, Carll is the newer, cooler Pat Green. Last night, guys who have never worn a cowboy hat donned one. And, whenever Carll made a reference to drinking, these folks thrust their beers skyward and proclaimed, "Hell yeah!"

Far be it for me to care who or what shows up at any particular show, though -- I'm just glad a talented guy like Carll is finally getting his due.

Still, last night, I felt unexpectedly outnumbered, like I'd staggered into the wrong bar at the wrong time of the evening.

Quality of the audience aside, Carll put in a masterful performance. Mixing in songs from his upcoming release KMAG YAYO (a military abbreviation for "Kiss My Ass Guys, You're On Your Own") with fare from all of his previous efforts, Carll rocked harder than any other time I've seen him.

"He sounds like Kid Rock playing Wilco songs," said a nearby bystander who hadn't heard Carll before.

I laughed, but it was a pretty damn good assessment.

"You're not a poet/You're just a drunk with a pen," sang Carll on the show's opening song "Hard Out Here."

It was a good line within a great song. And Carll had more of those. A lot more.

And, OK, even though he looks like the janitor at a middle school, his penchant for sly metaphors, and his grasp of hardcore honky-tonk make him one of the best purveyors of true country -- the kind of stuff Steve Earle calls "real music."

Of course Carll played "She Left Me For Jesus," and the crowd whooped and hollered when he did, even though the song's devious account of religion ought to offend more than a few. I guess that's part of what makes Carll so great, though -- he can create intelligent songs that sound dumb.

In other words: Carll is a secretly subversive smart-ass hiding out in the body of a redneck. And he's that good.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
Both opening acts were great as well. Travis Linville, who also plays in Carll's band, did a nice set of Neil Young-influenced country/blues. Especially nice was the Lightnin' Hopkins cover. Following that performance came Bobby Bare Jr., who was at his acerbic best. Whether singing his own songs (such as the wonderfully bitter "I'll Be Around") or some oddball cover tune (America's "Sister Golden Hair"), Bare's terrific vocals and bedraggled demeanor kept the crowd engaged throughout his set.

Random Note: Who knew Hayes Carll could pack the Granada?

By The Way: Lest there was any doubt, beer is the choice of drink at a country show. I stood in line behind three douchebags who insisted on ordering some esoteric mixture that the poor bartender barely knew how to make. And when these clowns finally got said drinks, they chugged them down and ordered another round while the line doubled. Hey, guys? Order a Shiner and get the hell out of my way.

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