Montgomery Gentry arriving on Earth
BB King Blues Club
November 11, 2005
“I ain’t trading in my family’s safety just to save on a little gas / And I’ll pray to God any place, anytime / And you know I’ll pick up the phone if Uncle Sam calls me up / You do your thing; I’ll do mine.”
-Montgomery Gentry, “You Do Your Thing”
Here’s something I don’t get to do too often: ask the lyrics question for music that isn’t rap. Is it possible to enjoy music when you find the lyrics repulsive? And if you do still enjoy the music, are you then implicated in the viewpoint being expressed? Does it speak to some buried-deep side of your soul that you’d rather forget? Usually, I’m asking that question about misogynist fake-ignorant rap guys like classic example Cam’ron, and it’s not a question I’m any closer to answering. But the great CMAs-in-New-York experiment/publicity stunt gives up opportunity to ask the question about a pair of hit-making square-jawed right-wing hardasses. What does it mean to like Montgomery Gentry?
Most of the duo’s songs are classic country-rock shitkickers like “Gone” and “Hell Yeah,” big jams with heroically downtrodden protagonists and enormous, juicy singalong hooks. But their reactionary political anthems are the most forceful bits of right-wing invective coming from Nashville these days; “You Do Your Thing” even has a verse about how it’s OK to beat your kids (“I ain’t gonna spare the rod cuz that ain’t what my daddy did / And I sure know the difference between wrong and right”). It’s hard to process this stuff when the main message behind my favorite album of the year (the Mountain Goats‘ The Sunset Tree) is that it is most certainly not OK to beat your kids. The bands’ videos drive their image home even further: Eddie Montgomery staring squinty-eyed into the camera, big black hat pulled low, black trench-coat billowing, looking a lot like the Undertaker; Troy Gentry’s barrel chest and ridiculously huge G.I. Joe lantern-jaw jumping out of his SUV (kids in back, dead deer tied to the hood) to chase drug dealers off the corner. These guys aren’t amoral like Cam’ron; they’re people with firm values and deeply-held convictions whose politics are almost exactly the opposite of mine, and that makes them way scarier than Cam’ron. And still scarier: the genuine choked-up teary lift I feel every time I hear their masterful family-provider anthem “Something To Be Proud Of.” These guys would be easy to dismiss if they were four-track crackpots with no sense of melody, but they’re speaking for a pretty huge chunk of this country’s population, and their songs are just too fucking good; “If You Ever Stopped Loving Me” is catching up to “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” as my favorite country song of the decade.
The band exists within Nashville’s star system: two country number-ones, new greatest-hits album, president of their label showing up at B.B. King’s on Friday night to give them their third platinum plaque. But aesthetically, the band is way more Southern-rock than country: soaring guitars, dripping-with-soul choruses, bikers in their videos. The band’s walking-onstage music was the Undertaker’s gong into “The Boys Are Back in Town,” everyone onstage wore black, and Gentry’s guitar strap was a chain. The band had four guitarists onstage, not including their pedal-steel player, who looked like a crystal-meth casualty and wore a Punisher T-shirt. And when it came time to play some covers at the end of the set, they went with Skynyrd and Creedence and ZZ Top instead of George Jones or Hank Williams. The dudes in the band position themselves as rebels, but they’re really not; the crowd had a smattering of bikers, but tanned, khaki-clad exurban businessmen were thick on the ground. I saw two people slow-dancing, a first for me at a show. Also worth noting: though the club wasn’t full, the band drew more people to BB King’s for a $75 show than new-faces-of-country Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson did to their free daytime concerts in Union Square. Much of the crowd may have been out-of-towners in town for the awards show, but there was a pretty big cheer when someone asked if anyone there was from New York.
When Wilson played her own right-wing jam “Politically Uncorrect” in Union Square (“I’m for the Bible and I’m for the flag,” etc.) in Union Square, she visibly steeled herself for a half-expected volley of boos that never came. But Montgomery Gentry never made the mistake of assuming that a New York crowd wouldn’t be behind them. The only explicitly political quote came from opening hack crooner Tracy Lawrence: “There’s a lot of shit going on in the world, and as far as I’m concerned it started right here. But we gonna finish it somewhere else.” Montgomery was classier, introducing “You Do Your Thing” by saying, “Someone came up to us at a show somewhere to tell us that we need to stop talking about the American heroes. I said, ‘Boy, we’re gonna keep talking about ’em, and we’re gonna keep talking about ’em, and we’re gonna keep talking about ’em!‘” Never mind that the song isn’t about American heroes at all or that Montgomery’s anecdote almost certainly never happened. It was Veteran’s Day, and not even New York boos American heroes. More importantly, Montgomery and Gentry were nothing like the grim-faced guardians they play in their videos. They were lovable clowns, jumping up and down and swinging mic-stands and busting-out half-choreographed moves with the other guitarists; Montgomery even spanked himself on the ass during the child-abuse part of “You Do Your Thing.” So is it OK to be saying this stuff even if you’re not taking yourself seriously? I don’t know. But Montgomery Gentry is a great band.
Unrelated: R.I.P. Eddie Guerrero