If you’re oohing and ahhing over the throwback country sound and storytelling of Springsteen’s Western Star, run, don’t walk — gallop to get yourself tickets to see Western Centuries. This Seattle-based group fuses traditional country elements with R&B in a musical style that has the creative energy of Memphis honkytonks of the post-WWII era before genres had fully split — with lyrics that range from current issues to personal problems to magical realist imagery.
Western Centuries played Café Nine on Friday night, supported by about half of local blues-folk-rock group Lyon Street Fire. It was awesome. I am about to tell you how awesome, and if you sit quietly and listen, you get a video, my nominee for “best use of the ‘don’t come around here’ trope,” a teaser for a must-have new song, and the quote that defines the New Haven I know and love.
Lyon Street Fire
If you want a taste of LSF’s style, start with “2 a.m.,” which captures the quintessential Connecticutian experience of NYC.
I didn’t do video of LSF because while they had great fun with the constraints they were under — started with solo songs by Michael Hunton, then brought other performers on gradually — and I enjoyed their set, the half-strength version isn’t representative of their usual act, and I prefer to do “band configuration variants” after I’m more familiar with the band’s core sound. So I’ll be catching them live again in the future.
So here we are in a bar. Ethan Lawton is laying down the beat on drums, Jim Miller is dancing with his guitar, the stand-in for Cahalen Morrison is winning that bet with the devil over fiddling. Let’s start you out with a song that has that traditional country swing and that traditional country attitude that drinkin’ to excess results in your darlin’ leavin’ you (and she probably takes the truck and the dog). It’s cheery, though. You may want to dance to it.
So we’re all having a good time… and Jim Miller announces, oh this next song, it’s about how that missionary who went uninvited to North Sentinel Island got shot with arrows. The song starts with (I may be paraphrasing slightly) “we told you not to come around here,” which I nominate for best use of the don’t come around here lyrical trope (a contest to be judged by the ghost of Tom Petty). This is the kind of country storytelling that impresses me — the colorful characters are ripped from the headlines, and there’s a point of view on events.
And then there’s the song about the proposed Space Force. If you miss Tom Lehr, you need this song. It’ll be on the next album (already recorded, not yet released). Here is a snippet to whet your appetite.
So there are songs about life, songs about drinking, and toward the end, the band went straight-up rockabilly and had people dancing in front of the stage. (TIL country-swing breakdancing is possible.) This was about when Jim Miller yelled at a table of dudes (whom I gather he knew): “You motherfucking postdocs, get up and dance.” Speaking as a townie who lives adjacent to Yale — that phrase, right there, is about as New Haven as it gets without anybody offering you pizza.
It was the kind of show where you want to two-step (or country breakdance, up to you) all the way home. This is a rootsy sound with wings (as a metaphor for current, fresh energy, not a reference to the band Wings — well, hell, you can probably find some 70s rock elements, especially in the electric guitar parts). I wish country radio played bands like this — not in the sense of sounding exactly like this, but in the sense of understanding their diverse musical roots on a bone-deep level, so that the unexpected elements they combine really sing.