Joe West & the Sinners
Continental Club, January 5
He started out as a folk singer of sorts and still retains a bit of folksy charm to his live performance, but Fred Eaglesmith has a very different view of folk music than your average singer-songwriter. Eaglesmith, in fact, possesses the same appeal and similar gift for storytelling as Texas artists Robert Earl Keen, Terry Allen, and Guy Clark. With his band the Flying Squirrels featuring electric mandolin (courtesy of the masterful Willie P. Bennett), dobro, and pedal steel, he can sound a little bit country, yet still raise a lot more racket than your local honky-tonk band. So what is he? Country? Rock? Folk? He's a lot of all three, and few artists are able to mix these styles into a cogent whole with the same remarkable amount of energy and charm. Eaglesmith really likes cars, so his shows usually feature many songs related to automobiles and buses (his current mode of transportation), and this set was no different; one standout was the jaunty "Alternator." He mixed in "Alcohol & Pills," a song about the deadly effect of drug abuse on legendary musicians, as well as "Carter," a thoughtful ode to Carter Stanley, and "Time to Get a Gun," a screaming look at how times have changed in his Canadian hometown. There were also touches of humor, such as the "commercial" for the supposed tour sponsor (a guitar string manufacturer) that recalled the dry wit and down-home whimsy of Garrison Keillor. Taken as a whole, this was an evening to prove that Eaglesmith is a one-of-a-kind songwriter and performer. His band crackled and stomped, while he shouted and moaned; Eaglesmith is as dynamic a performer as has ever graced the Continental Club stage. When he was finished, sweaty and spent, he left the audience in a similar condition, his melodies still ringing in their ears. Locals Joe West & the Sinners opened the night with a healthy dose of country rock, though its humorous bent seemed a little too calculated as the set wore on. When West stripped off his jumpsuit to reveal a silk nightgown and fishnet stockings, things took a bizarre turn. What followed was a version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show
's "Sweet Transvestite" that was perfunctory and tame, even if West showed some guts by exposing his ... feminine side.