Friday, August 14, 2009

Cross Canadian Ragweed, LoCash Cowboys Concert Review

Last night my wife, father-in-law and I went to the Cross Canadian Ragweed concert at the Missouri State Fair, on the advice of my sister-in-law.

Rock and roll and country music have been commingling for decades. Whether it is The Eagles from the rock world or Alabama from the country world acts have had feet on both sides of the fence going all the way back to Elvis Presley and Johny Cash's days at Sun Records. Until last night, however, I didn't realize country audiences had embraced post grunge guitar ala Lostprophets and Chevelle. Both bands we heard last night featured guitar that would have limited them to hard rock radio not that many years ago.

Cross Canadian Ragweed

It was an evening of contrasts. I'll start with the bad news.

The opening act was LoCash Cowbodys. To be fair, they are decent technical musicians. Too bad they have no respect for their audience.

This band brought to the stage everything I have against pop country radio. The banter between songs sounded scripted. They pitched buying a $.99 ring tone of one of their singles, with on buyer picked at random to "party" with the band backstage.

The subject matter of the songs was entirely predictable. Partying, home town, proud to be "redneck" and "country." Apparently, it's OK with country audiences if you sound like Fall Out Boy so long as you pat them on the head for being country audiences. This went as far as the chorus of one song spelling out "C-O-U-N-T-R-Y."

If the audience needs to be reminded what kind of music they are listening to something is wrong. I'm not saying LoCash Cowboys should be more country and less rock. I'm saying the music must be lacking if the band has to stroke the audience's collective ego to keep them engaged.

The low points were a sappy ballad about family ties and the closing number. They introduced the ballad by telling us how special the song was to them and to think about either our children or our parents. You know, if the song doesn't stir those thoughts without prompting the audience... Man, what's the point?

Last but not least, in terms of offensiveness anyway, there was the closing song.

I'm all for country bands covering The Beastie Boys. I'm all for genre hopping in general. But the way LoCash Cowboys delivered their closing cover of (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) was insulting.

For one thing, the irony of playing Fight For Your Right just minutes after prompting us to think warm thoughts about our children (or parents) was almost too much for me. What was even worse (much, much worse) was the band dedicating the song to our soldiers and veterans. Before starting the song itself they lead the crowd in chanting "they fight! for your right! to party!"

I was sitting next to a Vietnam veteran, my father-in-law, for all of this. Like the rest of their early Rick Rubin productions, this Beasties song is about youthful dissipation (porn and skipping school, in this case). I'm pretty sure while he was risking his life and watching others die in Vietnam my father-in-law wasn't thinking "boy, I hope my fellow Americans will always be free to buy Penthouse because of what I'm doing today!"

I wanted to puke.

And now, the good news!

Cross Canadian Ragweed was the headliner and the act recommended to us by my sister in law. Before leaving Iowa I listened to enough 30 second song previews on iTunes to know they might have enough in common with the alt country I've been listening to for me to find the show interesting. Big understatement!

When I saw the Fender 6x10 bass cabinet with the garden gnome sitting on top I had a good feeling. When heard the first round of guitar feedback I knew something interesting was about to happen. What I experienced was a band that played with an understated confidence in their music, the explosive blast and whip crack of which was irresistible for anybody moved by any brand of rock and roll.

Grady Cross and Cody Canada

Cross Canadian Ragweed is a bass, guitar and drums four-piece from Oklahoma and Texas. They are part of the "red dirt" scene, a distinct alt-country community in Oklahoma and Texas that embraces a wide range of style and instrumentation. Ragweed's music is driven by furious guitar, propulsive bass and a style of double-kick drumming associated with hard rock. The guy in the cowboy hat in front of me who had been singing along with LoCash Cowboys 30 minutes before may or may not have thought he was still at a country show. Within a couple of minutes of Cross Canadian Ragweed mounting the stage I realized I was at a really, really good rock concert.

Ragweed's lead singer, Cody Canada, never pandered to his audience. He made us come to him. This show was all about the music. Even when, late in the set, there was some audience participation (something I usually hate, and which LoCash Cowboys abused to no end) it was based not on the band directing the audience but the fact that the audience already knew the songs and were going to sing along anyway.

Bassist Jeremy Plato switched between three different instruments, a stock looking Fender Jazz 4-string and two six string instruments I never identified a make or model on. One fretted and one fretless. He had multiple solos during the set. His musical vocabulary is surprisingly broad. The solos were a pleasure to listen to and he provided important variety and dynamics that helped keep the assault of Canada's lead guitar from being overwhelming.

The truth is that I didn't catch a lot of Ragweed's lyrics. I look forward to digging into them. The bit of reasearch I have done on the band so far is very promising. My initial gut impression that they are coming from the same emotional place as Drive By Truckers is still holding. If you read my recent post on DBT you know I think this is a very good thing.

1 comment:

tatjana.bulovic said...

I was at this concert and I think that Cross Canadian Ragweed was fantastic! Their music gets me so pumped and their lyrics are full of meaning! Meaning PARTY!