Crossroads KC's 2012 season opened with a defiant twang Saturday. The first event of the year at the open-air venue behind Grinders featured three country-tinged bands. Cody Canada & The Departed, Shooter Jennings & The Triple Crown and Uncle Lucius entertained an audience of about 500 at the rain-shortened concert.
Co-headlined by Canada and Jennings, The Magical Misdemeanor Tour served as a forum for musicians who position themselves as authentic alternatives to the country music establishment. Both men are at pivotal junctures in their frustratingly erratic careers. Canada's previous band, Cross Canadian Ragweed, disbanded just as it was on the verge of achieving widespread popularity. The band was at the vanguard of the red dirt country movement, a spirited and unprocessed genre that originated in Oklahoma.
Loyal fans expecting to hear Canada faithfully replicate that gritty version of country might have been disappointed by his new approach. For every country shuffle he and his four-piece band performed, Canada played a bracing rock song. The loud material bore a curious resemblance to the early '70s output of the classic rock band REO Speedwagon. That material contained an energy that was lacking in country songs like "’The Ballad of Rosalie."
The band seemed to acquire a heightened sense of urgency when ominous lightning caused much of the audience to flee around 11 p.m. Only a few dozen fans remained after a light drizzle became a downpour. Even so, Canada and his band refused to heed the frantic exhortations of stagehands who were imploring the band to curtail a rain-soaked blues stomp on "Face On Mars." The band finally conceded to the elements forty minutes into its performance.
That reckless intensity was largely absent during Jennings' amiable hour-long set. While everything he played seemed heartfelt and honest, it didn't leave much of an impression. Jennings concentrated on material from his aptly-titled new album Family Man. Many of its songs focus on his devotion to his wife, actress Drea de Matteo, and to the rebellious legacy of his father, the late Waylon Jennings.
Unfortunately, Jennings didn't inherit his father's thick bass drawl. He's handicapped by a thin voice. Even so, Jennings successfully sold his current single "The Deed and the Dollar," a wry love song in the tradition of John Prine. Jennings' blasphemous demand that Jesus "turn my water into wine" on "Manifesto No. 4" resonated with the party-minded audience. A rendition of "Some Rowdy Women" was similarly suitable to the tenor of the evening. Jennings was most animated while delivering material that railed against the mainstream music that originates in Nashville. "Outlaw You," for instance, defended his father's reputation and decried the pop elements that dominate the contemporary country scene.
"Hey, pretty boy in the baseball hat," Jennings sneered during the angry song. "You couldn't hit country with a baseball bat."
Jennings wasn't referring to any of the five men in Uncle Lucius. The Austin-based act offered 30 minutes of refreshing roots rock in its opening set. Featuring sturdy material and two soulful vocalists, Uncle Lucius is squarely in the tradition of The Band. While Saturday's concert revealed that neither has fulfilled his full potential, Canada and Jennings may one day inspire similarly flattering comparisons among accomplished artists.
| Bll Brownlee, Special to The Star