Friday, August 11, 2006

Concert Review--Chris Knight, The Dame, Lexington, Kentucky

On Saturday I had my mind blown. I went to see Chris Knight in Lexington. Knight is someone who I have some knowledge of, but not a ton. I have his first album, when the country music industry saw him as the next Steve Earle and tried to produce an album that contained both Knight's excellent lyrics (something that makes him different from most mainstream country music) and a rock-pop-country sound that would sell. It's a good album but it didn't quite work and Knight has worked ever since as a member of the alt-country scene with some success. He's not as big as Lucinda Williams or Steve Earle but I'm sure he makes a good living.

I didn't know what to expect at this show. I figured there'd be good songs and I would have a good time. In Albuquerque, there'd be about 25 people at this show. But then again, Albuquerque has a national reputation for being a poor music town. I thought there'd be more in Lexington but I had no idea what I was in for.

There was an opening act. I didn't see all of it because there was a pretty good line to get in but what I did see was solid. It was the perfect music for a bar in Kentucky on a Saturday night. The musicianship was OK and the songs were decent. The singer was capable. He even had his girlfriend playing tambourine and singing backup--the Linda McCartney of the group. The guy had a hell of an ego too--I saw his CD and the title was something like "The Next Big Country Music Star." Anyway, I knew I was in for a good night when the band did an irony-free version of Hal Ketchum's "Small Town Saturday Night" and there were a bunch of people in the audience singing along. It's kind of a corny song but one that works on a certain level when people really mean it. This night in Kentucky, people meant it.

Then Knight came on. I knew I liked him immediately when he was wearing a denim button-up shirt that he had cut the sleeves off of. Nice. He played for about 2 hours. He had a great band and his songs are excellent--discussions of the white trash South. Lots of bad man songs, tough times, drinking, broken hearts--all the classic themes. His band was good and included a guitar player that was in the Keith Richards-you look liked you died 20 years ago mode. On its face, Knight put on a hell of a good show that was easily the best show I've seen in 2006.

What made the show so remarkable though was the audience. The place was packed. Even before Knight took the stage, the bar had run out of Budweiser and by the end of the show people were drinking beers like Amstel Light, Red Stripe, and Michelob. Don't know if I'd ever seen a bar run out of the standard beers before. Knight comes on and people are going crazy. Literally. They are singing along to all of his songs like he was Elvis or a pop star singing to teenage girls. But Knight's songs are intense. Here's his song "William" off his first album. There were a 150 people singing along to Knight and his acoustic guitar on this one.

Well I remember William
We weren't much more than kids
His family lived in a run down shack
Like the rest of the white trash did
Now me and ole William
We used to smoke out behind the barn
Til his daddy caught him stealing cigarettes
I still think he broke William's arm
When I was drinkin my first beer
Ole William was getting high
He got kicked out of school for fightin and drugs
And he stayed out late at night
He never said too much about home
Or the bruises on his back
I asked him about em one time
But he never answered back

Yeah William
You grew up hard and mean
You weren't the apple of your mama's eye
And your daddy was a burned out fiend
For what it's worth now William
I know you could've had a heart of gold
But I don't think you ever knew that you had one
I don't think you were ever told

He spent a year in reform school
Cause he broke in a hardware store
Now me and William lost track of each other
I never saw him much anymore
The last time I seen William
He was married and had two kids
He tried to raise em like he was supposed to
But sometimes he raised em like his daddy did


Well just last Sunday mornin
Momma called me on the phone
Said there's a story in the paper about William
She just thought I might like to know
He got shot by a city cop
While he was robbin a local drugstore
He was survived by two hungry kids, a wife and a pool of blood on the floor

Whoa! That's not a fun song. But there were 200 people or more, the majority of whom were singing along, who were totally into this and the other songs Chris Knight sang that night. Knight was clearly blown away and so was I. I had no idea Knight was so big in Kentucky. But then again, there's a reason that everyone plays the South and very few people play the Mountain West. People here are just bigger music lovers. Lexington's not a big place yet they consistently get better acts than the much larger Albuquerque. What this show really goes to show is the centrality of the crowd in a good concert experience. They were young, knowledgable, knew the songs, and were out to have a good time. Them having a good time made me have a great time. I'm not sure if I'll ever see anything quite like that again, especially so long as I am living in New Mexico.

Also, the fact that I already know Mr. Trend doesn't know who either Hal Ketchum or Chris Knight are shows that I have invited people of low character onto this blog. Lyrad may know who they are, but his low character is indisputable in any case.