Sticking it to Nashville, once again

by Jordan Green

Ziggy’s, the Winston-Salem live music emporium owned by Jay Stephens, was transformed into a honky-tonk on March 9 when Shooter Jennings, whose late father Waylon helped lead the outlaw country movement of the 1970s, came to town with his band from Los Angeles.

The Nashville rock and roll band Bang Bang Bang opens the show and, not unlike the band at the top of the bill, they’re conspicuous for their long hair and loud guitars although their music leans more towards glam and hard rock than the classic country twang and warp trafficked by Shooter and company. All in all, it’s a dangerous, good time – a soundtrack for self-abuse, macho posturing, uninhibited inebriation and public displays of affection.

The crowd appears to be made up of farm boys wearing camouflage caps and flannel, dudes in biker bandannas and bald guys wearing large pentagram earrings hanging with skinny young men with stringy, shoulder-length hair underneath black toboggans. Conditions seem favorable for a punch-up.

Even after Bang Bang Bang’s exit, the wooden floor in front of the stage remains packed with the devoted, who periodically chant Shooter’s name. Burly dudes and the occasional sweetheart pack in there. The requisite lit cigarettes and sweating Budweisers are juggled as classic recordings such as Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freight Line Blues” and George Jones’ cover of “Good Hearted Woman” are played and couples stagger through waltzes.

When Shooter walks onstage with his ace band the .357s, the outlaw country heir turns out to be a surprisingly small man. His shoulder-length hair, the color of wild honey, enhances the man’s beauty while his beard and aviator glasses (immortalized by now in the faux country weeper “Aviators”) obscure the same. He leans back, guitar resting against his belly and stares levelly into the crowd as he howls these hillbilly songs of pain and wayward sensuality.

The set sticks closely to material from the band’s 2006 release, Electric Rodeo. It opens with the title song, which references the example set by his daddy, before bitterly declaring, “I pick my songs at night at the next big show/ My friends they come and they go/ And love moves a little too slow/ When you’re riding with an electric rodeo.” The four-piece Southern rock band displays some of the grizzled sentimentality of Waylon, but hews closer to the harmonics of Skynyrd.

Next, after a dedication to the local crowd, the band tears into “Gone to Carolina.” With its reference to smelling “that sweet Southern rain,” it’s as close to unambiguous affirmation as Shooter is likely to come. This is the third or fourth time the band has played here, and the crowd sings along with delirious gratitude.

During the next break, Shooter eyes some distraction in front of the stage. “Everything cool?” he asks. “Let’s wrap this shit up.” As if an electric current streaks through the room, the floor begins to bounce as the band plays “Little White Lines,” an ode to the rip-current pull of cocaine. The song withholds nothing in anger or defiance as its cautionary tale unfolds.

The pungent smell of marijuana wafts through the room, and a hefty gal climbs aloft the shoulders of the companion, and bucks with the rhythm. “Got myself in a little mess, got busted down around Abilene,” Shooter sings. “I was goin’ way too fast boys, feeling lonesome, on’ry and mean… Little white lines on the highway, I’ll pick you up if you’re goin’ my way….”

After the encore, the band members run through a chute from the stage to what looks like a pair of barn doors, and a pair of house security guards close in behind them to block a mob of fans in pursuit.

A dozen or so fans assemble outside the tour bus, including two young men who have driven down from West Virginia for the show. Someone pulls out a guitar and begins to sing. “Shooter, Shooter,” they chant.

They almost don’t notice the young man punching in the security code on the door until one of them exclaims, “Bang Bang Bang.” The singer turns and grins, and then disappears within the inky confines of the whale.

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