Country rock with Shooter

The Tennessee whiskey couldn’t warm the visible breath of the freezing concertgoers waiting to see Shooter Jennings at the 9:30 Club Friday night. The “late” show became an early show, as the doors didn’t open until around 11:30 p.m., and the acts didn’t begin until the wee hours of the morning.

Outside, fans traded concert stories of various country-rock lore and legend. It just so happened that many of the tales revolved around the notorious Shooter himself.

Among the most-discussed was the tale of Shooter’s name, which allegedly came about after he urinated on a nurse when he was born. Shooter is the son of country-folk patriarch Waylon Jennings. The nickname, as well as the musical talent, were lasting gifts from his father.

The stories bounced around the freezing cold, as the audience was forced to entertain themselves until the bands were ready. However, it wasn’t too long before the Deadstring Brothers, a Detroit-based group, began at approximately midnight.

The soulful organ, smooth pedal steel guitar, and sultry female back-up vocalist leveled out their rough country-rock sound. The six-piece act made even the most hardcore cowboy hats in the crowd bop with their blend of old school country, rock ‘n roll, blues and pop.

While they were good for a young band, they might be in trouble once age catches up with them. Their sound is fit only for a Nashville dive bar. Just by listening, you can actually picture them in twenty years playing at some hole in the wall, with the once-sexy female vocalist turning down repeated advances from truck drivers that pulled into town to see the show, rather than hear it.

“We’ve been on the road since February. We even did some dates opening up for George Thorogood and the Destroyers. But being on the road with Shooter Jennings is pretty kickass,” said Travis Harrett, drummer for the Deadstring Brothers. “They’ve been the most fun dates on the tour,” alluding to Shooter’s shenanigans on and off stage.

It was so late by the time Jennings was ready to take the stage, the audience had lost all concept of time. As the lights dimmed, a quick check of the watch brought everyone back to reality at the ungodly hour of 1:15 a.m.

The .357’s, Jennings’ backing band, came on looking like ZZ- Top in training. Shooter lived up to his name, killed the rest of a bottle in one gulp and raised his hands in the air. The guitar tech ran up to strap an ‘axe’ on Jennings, and the audience became filled with doubt. After all, how can a guy who can’t even put his own guitar on play a full show?

Soon enough, Jennings, with his shoulder length hair, ratty beard and dark aviator sunglasses (remember … it’s almost 2 a.m. in a dark club), put all of those fears to rest. He opened up with “Electric Rodeo,” the title track from his newest album released this past April, and went right into “Gone to Carolina,” the smash hit from the new record.

While he clearly enunciated every word while he was singing, the audience could hardly hear anything from his dialogues in between songs. The words “good” and “D.C.” could barely be made out. The audience breathed a sigh of relief in knowing that at least Shooter knew what city he was in.

As the show went on, Shooter really came alive and grew into his element, while lead guitarist Leroy Powell needed a mirror underneath his nose just to check if he was still breathing. The guitarist stayed seated for the entirety of the show. The only signs of life he displayed all night were the soulful cries that came from his vintage Les Paul guitar.

Jennings, who looks like he doesn’t weigh an ounce over 150 pounds, was a giant on stage, demanding audience participation at every turn. And the crowd was more than happy to oblige. During certain numbers, like “Steady at the Wheel,” the stage could barely be seen beyond the sea of 10-gallon cowboy hats, trucker caps and Bud bottles raised high in tribute. The crowd was as diverse as any, with a retirement-aged, long-haired, bearded man in a flannel shirt and vest standing next to a twenty-something with a Blackberry securely fastened to his Batman-esque belt. It was clear that the group attracted all sorts.

Just like his father Waylon, Shooter Jennings is poised to have a lengthy career ahead of him, if he can only survive that long. It seems the guitar doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

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