“Rock and roll saved my life,” is an often mentioned sentiment of Patterson Hood’s that he reiterated before DBT launched into “Let There Be Rock,” near the end of their pre-encore set last night at the Cannery Ballroom in Nashville, TN. The live favorite, which recites concerts Hood spent his youth attending by road trips into Huntsville, Alabama was slightly reworked lyrically with a nod to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band this go around, but otherwise was consistently the rocking crowd-pleaser it always is.

Rock and roll as a life-saver is really a theme of the new Truckers album, “The Big To Do.” As this is the tour promoting that album, there were several choice cuts from it on the set list last night. In the liner notes to that record, Hood writes about the escapism of the circus and the dreams that (at least in nostalgic mythology) led oddballs and outcasts to run off and join it in the old days. “I never really was all that into the circus as a kid, but I sure was into the Rock Show, which was sort of The Circus for kids of my generation,” he writes. To that affect, the Truckers hit the stage for their encore to the beat of simulated circus music, complete with Hood in a ring leader’s top hat–they led the encore set with “The Flying Wallendas,” a noir ballad that pays homage to the family of acclaimed trapeze artists who famously performed without a net (surviving at least one notable fall in the process).

The DBT rock show at the Cannery Ballroom last night was somewhat of a mixed bag, however. I’ve seen the Truckers live several times and Patterson Hood solo once before, and it has always been a great show–last night was no different in the general sense, but the acoustics at Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom and Mercy Lounge are a bit lacking. A wide open space with brick walls and concrete floors, the sound tends to bounce off of every surface and amplify the noise–this unfortunately tends to turn the range of sound into one dense layer of sludge at many points. The Truckers are often a loud band anyway–it really depends on the album and tour since half of their songs approach acoustic ballad and alt-country pitch and the other half are full on hard rockers–and the acoustics in the Cannery last night weren’t quite up for the Big To Do tour. Yet, I can’t complain fully because the band did the best they could do with the situation and there were enough unique and special moments to make up for the short-comings that were pretty much beyond their control. DBT is a meshed blend of rock and roll, country, and punk–these acoustics emphasized the punk aspect, so if you wanted loud and emotional southern rock drenched in punk, the Cannery fit the bill in that aspect. That thought doesn’t quite make up for the loss of clear vocals and melodic shifts, but I took what I could get.

Those moments that made up for the downside? The Decoys, for one. I’ve heard fans rave about the Decoys at past shows I’ve been to, and I was excited to see them. David Hood, Patterson Hood’s father, is in the Decoys and is famous in his own right as a consummate studio musician whose made a career out of backing famous musicians in the studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, playing for artists as diverse and acclaimed as Etta James, Clarence Carter, the Staples Singers, Solomon Burke, Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker, J.J. Cale, etc. The Decoys play like the world’s best bar band, doing songs you know and love but doing them in a top-notch yet free-wheeling way. They opened with “Shot from the Saddle,” did “Pride and Joy,” “Melissa,” and the high point of their set for me was the classic Band song, “The Weight,” which they brought out Patterson and DBT bassist Shonna Tucker for. Later in the Trucker’s set the favor was returned when the band brought David out to join them in doing “Respect Yourself,” a Stax-era classic that sounded great last night.

It’s always fun just to see these folks interact on stage–they have a great give and take and stage rapport; though I’ve always been a bit partial to Patterson, the more I see them live the more others shine just as strong. Shonna is becoming the focal point on stage at many points–she plays bass with such stage-presence that not a punk riot grrl anywhere can hold a candle to her, and she works the stage with a level of energy that is captivating to watch. I love Cooley’s songs as well, and last night he seemed to seal the deal each time he was front and center. His “Birthday Boy,” and “Carl Perkin’s Cadillac” were high-points, but my favorite song of the night was his “Women Without Whiskey,” a song from “The Great Southern Rock Opera” that I’ve never paid as much attention to before but which felt like the best part of the set last night for some reason. All in all, there were some great choices and some great performances–there were some unexpected choices that worked well also (who would have thought that an early days goof off track like “Buttholeville” could rock like that?). Every DBT show I’ve ever seen has involved someone behind me yelling “play Lookout Mountain!” I’ve always wondered when this became a fan favorite, it’s never been one of my favorite songs, but somewhere along the way it must have become many people’s favorite. Well, this time the band either heeded the cries or just coincidentally made the night for the drunken frat boys behind me, because it was one of the closing numbers.

If you’ve never seen the Truckers, I suggest trying to make a Big To Do stop–hopefully at a venue you know and love. If you have to see a show at the Cannery only do so if no other venue is close, but if you go–take some ear plugs.

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Kathryn Joyce’s “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement,” is informative yet horrifying and absurd in content–you wish as you read this you were reading a document from150 years ago, or maybe science fiction, but no, these are real people and real events in the 2000s. Joyce is a freelance journalist who has written for Mother Jones, Newsweek, and the Harvard Divinity Bulletin. In this work she travels the country looking deeply into the pro-Patriarchal movement which espouses full Headship/Lordship of the Husband in the household. In the general school of thought within this movement, the husband is the presence of God to his wife and her proper relationship with God requires her full and dutiful submission to her husband. Daughters in the family are to remain submissive to the father as well until a marriage is suitably arranged and they thus become property of another man with the duties of full submission to their husband and the requirement to have as many children as God intends–birth control of any sort is typically an “abomination” in this movement–the Patriarchal movement hopes to control and “take back” this country through multi-generational plans that involve massive amounts of children within each “Godly” family.

As a reading experience, there are times when I could only give this a 3 out of 5. Not because the author isn’t good at the journalism work and style that she does here, but because these chapters tend to bog the reader down and inundate them with what appears to be repetitive situations all over the country (and sometimes the world)–but then she hits you over the head with a new level of crazy and you’re glad you kept reading. As a work that conveys information that readers of all beliefs and locales need to be aware of, this work deserves a 5 out of 5. It seems that in the long term, the core groups she looks at will (hopefully) not be a threat to mainstream society, as much as they hope to be. Their plan to rear 5 generations of patriarchy-advocating and policy-changing children, though terrifying according to their math, will likely not be large enough to work out nearly on the level they plan, and hopefully in time and with education and exposure due to geographic and cultural location the descendants of these movements will “jump the ship” in large quantities. It’s terrifying that these movements have succeeded in the way that they have where they have, that they’ve spawned emotional, moral, psychological, and often physical violence to women and created groups of women who become self-loathing to the extreme degree, of themselves and of their entire gender, and who then go on to propagate such madness on the internet, through homeschooling curriculum and in books. What is truly scary is the peripheral influence this movement has had–in leaking into the Southern Baptist Convention and Seminaries, spreading the core ideas to thousands of mainstream churches; in spreading to “moral” movements in small towns, inspiring “Purity Balls” which feed off of the same father-daughter near-incestuous and property-owning ideals; in tapping into politics and becoming seen as a movement for GOP candidates to appeal to and develop from. All in all, a read worthy of your time if you have never looked much at this growing pro-Patriarchy Movement. It also gives food for thought about how we are to deal with and work in areas of religious tolerance and accommodation, when movements such as this are as dangerous in their own way as some violent religious extremism.

I’ll leave you with a clip from a heinous documentary, “The Monstrous Regiment of Women,” which Joyce references in the book and which is made by one of the core Quiverfull groups.

It’s easy to wax poetically about how great the Gaslight Anthem is in big, hyperbolic statements for those of us who felt like we had found the music we hadn’t known we were waiting for the moment we first heard a song from them.

They’re a band that fans of feel bewildered about when we hand a copy to a friend to turn them on the sound and they hand it back saying, “well, it’s okay I guess.” “Okay?” we want to ask. More like fan-damn-tastic. Okay, so I can see how not everyone is going to feel as excited about their music as those of us who feel like their songs were custom built for us. Those of us who can’t play rock but if we could, we’d want to sound this good, we’d want to channel this passion, we’d want to spark a crowd that can’t dance with the crazy urge to dance all night, we’d want to pack this emotional gut-punch with the starry-eyed beat-poet nostalgic glory-days of American rock and roll story lyrics, we’d want to make this type of punk-punched Americana rock.

Gaslight aren’t doing anything ground-breakingly new; as I’ve written on this site before, they’re just nodding to their past roots and re-packaging them into something exciting and fresh. On “American Slang,” there are less blatant lyrical nods than on “The ’59 Sound” album (which sometimes had moments when it felt akin to hip hop’s method of sharing classic lines as subtle homages), but the influences of the band still peer through in pleasant ways. You can tell lead singer Fallon loves Sam Cooke-style soul, and as great as the moments in which that love is evident (as on “Diamond Street Choir”) it is also evident that their love for such sources came first from ’70s era rock bands who loved that soul sound and tried to channel it in live performances. Pre-release press had Fallon stating the Springsteen influence was downplayed a bit and that the band had been listening to a lot of Clash and English style classic rock. I don’t hear that so much, I do still hear some Springsteen influence though, as well as Replacements, Social Distortion, Tom Petty, Big Star, etc.

The entire “American Slang” album is amazing; I’ve been listening to it for a week or more thanks to the internet but I went today on release day to pick up the vinyl LP and the legal digital download that came with that. If you have a vinyl shop in your city and like good rock music don’t hesitate to pick this up; for under 14 bucks you can get a beautifully packaged, thick 180-gram gatefold LP and the digital tracks to 10 of the best rock songs that have been released since the last Gaslight album.

“The Boxer” has been hailed by some as their best single yet; I find it hard to top “The ’59 Sound” title track, but as a whole album this is their strongest work to date. It’s not a giant leap forward, which would be hard when they’ve been good since day one; 3 albums and 1 EP in and they’ve yet to release a bad song. 33 or so of the 35 some odd songs they’ve released are tunes I can hear any day at any time and be caught up with quickly. But on “American Slang,” their strengths all sort of coaelesce into something that sounds like who they truly are.

This album had some tough competition today–coming out the same day as another thoroughly consistent rock and roll band, one whose had 30+ years being consistent (Tom Petty) and the same day as the most hyped-up and industry pushed hip hop disc of the year (Drake), so there’s no telling how the sales will be. It’s a physical media type of album though, it’s too heart-of-early-rock-and-roll conscious to be only a series of MP3s. After weeks of listening to plenty of new music digitally, whether on the computer or on the i-pod, it was great to drop the needle on truly “real” music. Pick it up and then recommend it to a friend. Obviously those of us who feel we discovered the greatest purely-fun and repeat-listen-inducing rock band in the past ten years are growing in rank. The music press are eating them up, Rolling Stone noticed as far back as last year that they’re one of the few bands that are great live, on album, and able to transmit that live sound onto even a late night TV show (where many bands falter); RS claimed their appearance on Letterman almost sealed the deal for them as band of the generation, and a couple more albums this good and they might be right.

“American Slang” – 9.5/10

Christian Nation?

June 8, 2010

The History Channel’s new “America: The Story of Us” is a pretty fascinating documentary series detailing major moments in American history. The format mixes reenactments with commentary, analysis, and narration.  Early in the series, Tom Brokaw says with a smile that, “We’ve never been a nation to turn the other cheek,” commentating on the Boston Tea incident and the beginnings of the Revolutionary War.

We’ve never been a nation to turn the other cheek. He seemed to be saying it with pride. He’s right, though. The series does mix in glowing narration from key and celebrity Americans, and the tone often does the glorifying, the exciting and noble recounting of the nations past. Yet it doesn’t pull back from the bad, the dark, the unsavory aspects of Americans or their history. Early on we see that certainly, the Mayflower folks wanted religious freedom and came here with hopes to find it. Yet before them, concurrently with them, and after them, the majority of people braving the dangers of travel and resettlement in “the new world,” were looking for something a bit more tangible– most who risked life and limb did so with hopes to find wealth and riches. “The Story of Us” shows the first waves of explorers as those seeking fortunes in tobacco and farming, in mining for diamonds and treasures.

America was built by wealth seekers. Thanksgiving was born out of an alliance between a group of settlers and a Native American tribe who used British firepower to eradicate another tribe of indigenous people who were dead before they knew what had hit them. Paul Revere was a “self made man,” a wealthy individual who along with many other wealthy individuals didn’t feel like paying taxes to the crown and had no desire to be told by the crown what they were to do with their money in any way whatsoever.

Now, there are big issues of government, of individual rights and responsibilities, of representation and election to consider; there was good and bad behavior on both sides of the fence, so to speak. This is not an article to critique or evaluate the Revolutionary War or the beginnings of the American Nation. I don’t question the states decision to break away from the crown, there are many valid and important reasons such a thing occurred. But Brokaw’s comment made me think further about a “Christian nation.” Because oddly enough, most who opine that this country used to be but no longer is a Christian nation would applaud Brokaw’s observation as true and good. Yet isn’t a key commandment from Jesus to “turn the other cheek,” a thing apparently we’ve never done as a nation? We have never been a Christian nation. Perhaps the bigger question is should we have been? Should we be so now?

People get riled up over the separation of church and state. It’s always an issue that comes back to provoke intense feelings whenever someone perceives the separation gap to be growing or lessening. The thing for me is, that I can see both sides of this argument defensibly. It’s highly obvious that those who are religious should desire that the state stays out of their religion–most wouldn’t want the government telling them when, how, and where to worship. Yet it becomes difficult when reversed…if one is religious, how can that not affect one’s politics? If you are an individual in a church or a church body as a whole, you will react to things in the political sphere. There is no separation when it comes to justice or Spirit…what you feel in the temple translates to how you act in the public sphere, or at least it should. By this c0unt, if an issue is moral–and what issue isn’t in one way or other– then a church goer must respond to that issue morally. This affects how a religious person votes and what government policies such a person advocates.

Granted, religious perceptions can lead to drastically different political advocacy–Brian McLaren in his “Generous Orthodoxy” book recounts a friend’s observation that the Christian Left were the go to advisers in the ’50s through the ’70s and their ranks swelled the Democratic party, but the Religious Right through various means overtook them in the ’80s and ’90s and settled into Washington–an event that McLaren’s friend wryly speculated left the Left spinning with a Power Hangover and the Right tripping on a Power Buzz with neither side accomplishing much these days. It’s unavoidable that the type of faith one practices will lead to the type of politics one advocates and these gaps can remain securely between folks in both spheres. It seems to be obvious that it’s not really possible to not let one inform the other.

The brilliant writer in World Religious studies, Huston Smith, writes in “Why Religion Matters,” about the push and pull of Science and Religion, arguing that in the postmodern world the general public has handed over to Science what they once gave to Religion–faith. Smith argues against what he terms Scientism at length– a type of blind faith in Science that gives Science a blank check for answers to all of life’s largest questions despite the many times when giving ascent to such answers requires as much of a leap of faith as giving that assent to Religion. Smith compares this to the push and pull between Business and Government in the 1920s and onwards as Big Business fought against regulation, unions, welfare, safety laws, taxes, etc. My question and speculation leads to whether this push and pull is really still between State/Government and Religion, as much as there is still Religion in the West. Can any nation ever truly be “Christian?” If a natural outcome of Christianity leads to “turn the other cheek,” to pacifism (granted, a natural outcome that many Christians will argue against), then is it possible for an entire nation to adopt such a stance and survive?

The bottom line for me is that I do and will always advocate a strong “wall of separation” between Church and State as I believe the “founding fathers” intended. I do not want any church controlling the government to the peril of those whose faith is different than theirs. I do not want any government controlling any church except in extreme cases which involve safety and security. I feel any government meddling in how a congregation gathers and worships can lead to nothing good. Yet I do feel all who feel religiously should and must vote, advocate, and politically work for policies and laws that affirm their morality and spirituality. I wish all such people could learn respect for and tolerance of all other faiths and thus advocate for laws and systems that protect and serve all people equally– such laws and systems affirm the centrality and best essence of all enduring faiths–but many do not recognize this and I can only hope that in time education and exposure can make great leaps in this regard. As another final note, I don’t believe this nation has ever been a Christian nation, and I do not believe it was ever intended to be. Yet I believe it was intended to be and can still be a Nation filled with heartfelt and compassionate Christian people—as well as heartfelt and compassionate Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Secular Humanists, etc—all working together to serve the best part of each.