If you have seen James McMurtry more than once, then you know the aspects of his show that you can come to expect:
There will be a call for all the Methodists to come to the dance floor — a joke at the expense of any Baptists in the room.
If you shout requests, he will remind you that he’s the only one who really knows what you are going to get to hear.
He, at some point, will have editorial comments for the audience, which will undoubtedly involve the nemesis of polite conversation: politics and religion.
You will get an invite to come see him at the Continental club in Austin on any given Wednesday at midnight, and he will close with “Too Long in the Wasteland.”
True to form, all those ingredients were present. There were even some unexpected additions to the receipt. Just a few songs into the set, McMurtry brought a new song with a high-energy distorted riff and lightning-fast lyrics. It seemed to go over well, and though unfamiliar, a good many of the “Methodists” were shaking what God gave ‘em right along to it. McMurtry was also more talkative than I have seen him in the past.
Most of the editorial segments were well crafted and pertinent to the song they introduced, giving some indication of McMurty’s opinions on the economy, politics and religion. Prior to playing “Freeway View,” he shared with the crowd that he started writing that song just up the street at a Best Western. If am figuring this correctly, that must have been the old Best Western In-Towne which was right smack dab on I-30 and indeed provided a “freeway view.”
As for the music, McMurtry has been doing this for a while — a long while. He seems to tour almost constantly and don’t forget about that standing Wednesday midnight gig at the Continental. So his set is well put together, tried and found to be true.
He started off with a burst of high energy songs leading up to the ruckus one-chord boogie ”Choctaw Bingo,” about a family reunion in Eastern Oklahoma filled with images of catfish, firearms, untaxed liquor, methamphetamine production, and impure thought involving second cousins. It is a set staple, crowd pleaser and really gets folks moving. Then the band left the stage and McMurtry dropped it back down into low gear, and brought the melancholy hard with ”Carlos and Ruby.” The band would return, and with them more high-energy numbers like “Levelland,” the aforementioned “Freeway View” and standard closer “Too Long in The Wasteland.” There were a couple of hiccups, including some blown lyrics on “Red Dress,” the night’s second song. But McMurtry and Co. quickly righted the ship and did so in such a way that only those singing along could even notice.
Coming back to the stage alone for his encore, McMurtry picked up his trusty Guild jumbo acoustic guitar only to have one of its six strings break. Proving once again to be unflappable, he proceeded, without pause, to sweeten the tuning on the remaining five strings and went back to work laying down “Lights of Cheyenne” as if had been written to be played with only five strings. Disappointments were few. “Rachel’s Song,” the finest song ever written to reference wrecking an El Comino, was notably absent from the set. The sound in the room was good for the most part, but occasionally vocals were difficult to hear and at times there seemed to be some unintended distortion.
Overall, it did seem most of the folks at the well-attended show had a great time. It might have been the Bushmills talking, but by the end of the show a friend and I were talking about actually making that trip to Austin to catch a Wednesday midnight show at the Continental Club. As McMurtry put it in “Too Long in the Wasteland,” “Whiskey don’t make liars / It just makes fools.”