It's safe to say certain things about the Muscle Shoals, Ala. quintet Lauderdale feel familiar if you're acquainted with the "Muscle Shoals Sound" or any of the music hailing from that corner of Alabama from about 1972 onward. Yes, I'm speaking of Lynyrd Skynyrd, for starters, but more specifically of the latter-day renaissance (think: Drive-by Truckers, Jason Isbell, Dylan LeBlanc, et al.) Basically, if you love countrified rock & roll, it's the place to look for it.
Lauderdale themselves showed every advantage of coming to fruition in such fertile soil: artful songwriting, pristine musicianship (downright evocative pedal-steel fills), and comfort in their song-ified snapshots of workaday characters who drink too much, feel a lot, and "get paid on Friday" but are "broke by Monday." There was a warm sing-along quality to their healthy rockers, and a cluster of local dudes down in front knew almost every word, and even put their arms around each other in a mantle of bro-love when the frontman announced they'd be doing their "anthem": a ballad whose refrain repeated the wince-worthy line, "I still have to drink to fall asleep."
From Birmingham, headliners 13 Ghosts are a rugged three-piece of hirsute, imposing figures — each with his own hint of kindness and edge, like benevolent-hermit mountain men. Their opening number exploded with such trembling intensity and otherworldly guitar effects, in fact, it was like they were attempting to conjure up some specter of the past. They were equal parts humorless and jocund, apt to tease each other but then launch into some heartworn, true-story ballad about a friend who lost his life, presumably to bad behavior in a backwards town.
Though all this may sound like the cozy tropes of rootsy-rock, beware. Easily the most intriguing things about 13 Ghosts are their strange and varied influences, and thus, their ability to duck the expectations of an audience accustomed to formulaic Southern rock. After all, the band is a three-piece — the lineup perhaps most identified with punk — requiring a to-the-limits exploitation of their limited resources. This means, of course, that several of the songs rollicked over blown-out, undulating bass lines, and that the drum kit was as softly expressive an instrument as it was a beat-blasting machine.
Frontman Brad Armstrong sang certain numbers with the working-class affectation of a singer-songwriter, but in his more straightforward rock & roll, he intoned a nasally and dissatisfied narration — a singing voice that felt more at home with Michael Stipe's greatest exercises in ennui. As he was also the guitarist, Armstrong picked like a demon in places where his melody or his crunchy vamps propelled the song entirely. When he felt the need to jam his face off, he took the bent-forward, gut-punched headbanging stance I've only seen impersonated by myself, at home, in the mirror, attempting my best Darby Crash.
They played for their money's worth, to a crowd much sparser than deserved. 13 Ghosts isn't by any means an acquired taste, but the band is a curious one, spanning genres and generally accessing enough influences to provide an earnest and raw show no matter your musical preferences.