The Morells, Waterloo Brewing Co., Thursday, March 15

Live Shots: South by Southwest 2001

The Morells

Waterloo Brewing Co., Thursday, March 15

State of the Rock, Circa 2001. There are the nü-metal bands, grimacing, posturing, flailing their hair and angrily testifying about all the things that irritate them. There are the latter-day spiky punks, making like it's 1981 and getting after it with all the grim determination (and relevance) of Civil War re-enactors. There are the Seventies revival bands, reaching for the hem of Jimmy Page's garment, while the audience hollers, "Turn up the mustache, dude!" There are the industrial/ dance technicians, concentrating furiously on the beeps, boops, and programmed robo-beats stored in their Mac Powerbooks. That's all well and good, but where's the fun in all that? The Morells, you may recall, were a tiny cult favorite back in the early Eighties; based in Springfield, Mo., they put out an album of ridiculous and sublime songs to drink Budweiser by. Nearly 20 years after the fact, they're back and every bit as goofy as before. Fronted by producer Lou Whitney, they took over where fellow Show-Me State homeboys the Domino Kings left off, with covers of Foster & Lloyd's "Seven Days Without Love (Makes One Weak)" and Ronnie Self's "Home in My Hand," interspersed with their own off-kilter tunes. Guitarist D. Clinton Thompson, a thoroughly unlikely guitar god, plays notes on his Telecaster that simply don't exist on most guitars, seasick jazzy runs and queasy country licks wrapped around Chuck Berry rudiments. Ponder the tale of "Don't Let Your Baby Buy a Car" -- the auto-jilted boyfriend "started dippin' snuff, and got heavy into softball." "Hair of the Dog That Bit Me" actually sounds hung over, except that those hurtin' from the night before can't play as well as the Morells. Rockabilly, twistable rock, country, the Morells can cover a lot of ground, with Whitney tossing a cheeky bon mot into the audience at every turn. It's a good sign when there are couples jitterbugging, and a guy in a wheelchair turning donuts and popping wheelies out in the middle of 'em. They're not young, they're not pretty, but the Morells are as American as a cheeseburger from Red's and as funny as a drunken monkey. In fact, you could say that bands like the Morells make you proud to be a by-Gawd American. There's a place for venting one's spleen, pissing off your parents, raging against the machine, and making a Big Statement, but cutting loose and having a good time will never go out of style, even if it's silly as hell.

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