Gig review: DAN BAIRD AND HOMEMADE SIN, JASON AND THE SCORCHERS, KENTUCKY HEADHUNTERS – Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 6 September 2019

Package tours are an increasingly common feature of the gig scene, but it’s rare for one with three bands to have equal billing for each. The fact that Dan Baird and Homemade Sin, Jason and the Scorchers and the Kentucky Headhunters were all being given a generous hour each was one reason why this gig was a must see. Another was that they occupied a position on the musical spectrum that was complementary, albeit with a few differences of approach.

And finally, on a personal level, while Dan Baird and band tour every year (albeit in smaller venues) and until recently those shows were a fixture on my gig calendar, the other two have a much less frequent presence in the UK. Both have appeared at Ramblin Man a few years back, but this was my first opportunity to see them.

The Kentucky Headhunters were first up and their greying hair and wizened features- exemplified by drummer Fred Young’s extraordinary flowing side whiskers- were a reminder that shamefully I had never heard of them until the family connection with Black Stone Cherry, and I am sure others were in the same boat.

I had been led to believe they were a mixture of southern rock and country but in fact they were far bluiesier than I expected. The vocals were shared between rhythm guitarist Richard Young and bassist Greg Phelps  but it was the latter’s that I found the more convincing, melodic but with a pleasant trademark southern twang, notably on  ‘Chitlin Time’ and the heavier southern rock of ‘Wishing Well’ which was a particular highlight for me.

The star of the show however was the crouching figure of lead guitarist Greg Martin. He delivered some tasteful solos on his Les Paul: however it was his slide guitar playing which was at the heart of their best moments,  notably when they played a couple of blues songs- ‘Stumblin’ and a cover of ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’  in tribute to Chuck Berry pianist Johnnie Johnson who they had worked with.

More great slide work on ‘Walking With The Wolf’, as well as on a further cover of ‘Spirit In The Sky’, contributed to me increasingly thinking George Thorogood and the Destroyers were the Headhunters closest reference point.

There were too many covers for my liking, ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ being another but ‘The Ballad of Davey Crockett’ was particularly fun as was ‘Dumas Walker’ (which sounded like the more appropriate ‘among the swampers’ to me!).

Indeed an encore sounded naggingly familiar which I briefly thought was either ‘People Get Ready or ‘The Weight’ but was in fact an original, ‘Crazy Jim’ its almost gospelly feel was out of sync with the good time rock n roll that had gone before  and the gravelly tones of Richard really suited the song.

I was equally unfamiliar with Jason and the Scorchers material, other than the occasional song guitarist Warner E Hodges had played in his other job in Homemade Sin, though vaguely aware they were one of the acts Kerrang! , in one of its more broad minded phases, had championed when I first got into rock.

The eponymous Jason Ringenberg made a spectacular opening impact on ‘Lost Highway’ – in his cowboy hat and western shirt, his harmonica playing and crazy-legged dancing called to mind a Nashville version of Lee Brilleaux. He was also a sharp-witted storyteller between the songs.

Songs that date back to the early eighties such as ‘Help There’s A Fire’ and ‘Harvest Moon ‘ got a good reception while after he strapped on an acoustic guitar, the Steve Earle co-written ’Bible And A Gun’  had a more REM-ified influence.

Perhaps the reason the band failed to make it big initially was that in those days there were more barriers between country, rock n roll, punk and heavier rock. In the current climate it would have been easy to see their fusion of genres nestling alongside Blackberry Smoke and the Cadillac 3.

There was an impressive diversity – their cover of Dylan’s ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’ came over as perfect pop-punk, and gave way to an out and out country song in Still Tide’  followed by  ‘Better Than This’, sung by Warner and a straight ahead hard rocker. Another from Halcyon Times in ‘Moonshine Guy’ reflected the collaborating efforts of the WIldhearts, themselves apparently influenced originally by the band.

They closed with ‘Broken Whiskey Glass’ and I craned over from the balcony to see some enthusiastic pushing and shoving in the pit and several people were dancing to an extended version of the energetic, punky ‘White Lies’ which appears to be their signature song.

I was delighted my curiosity had got the better of me as this was an outstanding set and only 35 years late I had made a new discovery in the Scorchers.

There was then one of the shortest changeovers in history before Dan Baird and Homemade Sin closed the evening though Warner was given a couple extra minutes recuperation time as the set began with Dan, rake thin and face obscured by a top hat and curtain of hair, playing the old Georgia Satellites song ‘Another Chance’ before the rest of the band kicked in- featuring a fellow Satellite alumnus in Mauro Magellan whose energetic drumming is always a delight to watch.

Regular watchers of Homemade Sin will know that few bands are better at capturing the spirit of modern day rock n roll and settling into a driving, supercharged but infectious groove. Tonight was no exception and even when songs like ‘Little Darling’ became lengthy jams it was done in such a tight way, devoid of flab, that it never became boring, while Warner’s punchy, aggressive guitar playing fits the style perfectly.

However where I thought they fell down was that too many songs sounded the same- not helped by the fact that old Dan solo favourites like ‘I Love You Period’ and ‘Julie and Lucky’ were unexpectedly absent. 30 years on, the Georgia Satellites songs may form a lesser part of the set than they used to but they still stand out- in this case the gig lifting with ‘All Over But The Crying’ and a ‘Keep Your Hands To Yourself’ that inevitably got people singing along and punching the air, together with a lengthy ‘Mon Cheri ‘later on.

The set was far shorter than a usual Homemade Sin marathon and therefore it was s surprise when Dan said we were already two songs away from the finish- the rather more subdued, almost country ish ‘Adilyda’ giving way to the old Satellites favourite ‘Railroad Steel’, turning into one of those jams they do so well with the band improvising through never ending twists and turns.

Different people will have different opinions but on this occasion I felt the Scorchers shaded the honours. Nevertheless all three bands gave 100% with big smiles on their faces, and no-one could complain at a value for money evening of good time music. It should happen more often.

Review and photos by Andy Nathan

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