Wednesday, August 22
Better than: Happy hour, commuting home, whatever else you’d be doing at 7:30.
“We ain’t in West Waco, Texas anymore.” If you live in New York, you hear something similar at nearly every county music show you go to, but last night at Joe’s Pub, where Wade Bowen sang a few of his songs as the 6 train rumbled underneath, the statement felt particularly true.
By this point in his career, Bowen has distinguished himself as a musician’s musician and a songwriter’s songwriter, traveling the Lone Star State first with West 84 then going solo some ten years and five albums ago. Once he opened for his brother-in-law Cody Canada, former frontman for Cross Canadian Ragweed; now they stand together at the top of the Texas music charts, the former’s The Given shedding the bluegrass influence of West 84 songs like “Good Time Tonight” and leaning closer toward Nashville-style modern country and the latter’s This Is Indian Land driving home straightforward, pedal-stomping rock and roll.
Here in New York, though, with only a guitarist to back him up and a crowd of new faces to make an impression on, those signifiers and affiliations mattered less than usual. Fortunately, Bowen and his songbook were able to pick up that extra weight. After opening with two older numbers, Lost Hotel‘s “One Step Closer” and If We Ever Make It Home‘s “You Had Me at My Best,” he went to The Given for “A Battle Won,” an admission that sometimes in relationships “being right ain’t worth the price” that works something like a more sober version of Brad Paisley’s more tongue-in-cheek “That’s Not a Lie (That’s Love).”
Over the course of the evening, that new album provided many of the highlights. Although the size of both band and audience—”I’m not used to sit-down, attentive crowds,” he at one point chuckled—kept loud-quiet-loud favorites like “Please to Come to Boston” out of the setlist, it also allowed for every breath, every plucked string, and every silence to be heard. In this environment, “Saturday Night,” Bowen’s first entry into the country top 40, survived unaffected, and album-closer “Before These Walls Were Blue,” a slow response to the birth of his first son, sounded even better.
Fittingly, the show ended with the vaguely tongue-in-cheek “God Bless This Town,” a tune about the how quickly rumors spread in a place where the population dips below 200. It would make for a great kiss-off, if only its singer had any intention of heading out.
Critical bias: Would consider myself as being from a small town, but not “under 200 people” small.
Random notebook dump: If you ever need to casually stand out in New York, boot cut jeans will always do the trick.