16 Horsepower, Stubb's, September 30
Stubb's, September 30 If Jesus tools around heaven on a lawnmower like George Jones going to the neighborhood bar, 16 Horsepower is the CD in his Walkman. "It's no sin to be forgiven," professed lyricist, lead singer, guitarist, accordionist, and banjo-picker David Eugene Edwards about midway through his 80-minute sermon so late Saturday it was already Sunday. The show's tortured, melancholic cast suggested otherwise, but as per theologians Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and U2, faith without doubt is worthless. Shifty-eyed as any televangelist, Edwards, with guitarist/keyboardist Stephen Taylor and the Parisian rhythm section of Pascal Humbert and Jean-Yves Tolar, recast the Doors' Morrison Hotel as a clapboard Pentecostal tabernacle, his ghost-town goth snaking and snarling its way from the opener's funereal organ drone through evocations of Sonic Youth, Prokofiev, wheezy waltzes, and eventually, sneering banjo-fired foot-stompers like "Black Soul Choir." It was church with leopard-print choir robes, and Edwards was preaching to the converted: Many audience members hardly moved a muscle the entire time, and more incredibly, refrained from conversing with their neighbors. Quiet as a sanctuary, perhaps -- or a tomb. "I'm a rompin' dead boy on a long road," sang Edwards on "Sac of Religion." "What opened up my eyes to this? I'm just trying to keep 'em closed." Perhaps as a shield to prevent straying from their leader's chosen path, the band created a sound that was often forbidding, but never desolate. With Humbert and Tolar in a locked groove and music oozing like stigmata, it was ultimately as cleansing as a full-immersion baptism, because underneath all Edwards' wrestling with the mortality, lust, and wickedness of this world was the implicit promise of salvation in the next. It's no sin to be forgiven, but it's no picnic, either, not when the only line between heaven and hell is the music in one man's soul.
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