Written by James Killen
James McMurtry at the Houston Continental Club- 12/3/2016
I showed up at the Continental Club Saturday night wearing a T-Shirt bearing the outline of Lonesome Dove character, Woodrow Call and a quote regarding rude behavior in a man. It was a Larry McMurtry shirt, but a McMurtry shirt just the same. I was certain that irony would have brought a wry grin to James McMurtry’s face. Of course, he never noticed the shirt, in that he had bigger concerns in putting on a fine rock and roll show.
James McMurtry does a weekly show at Austin’s Continental Club along with John Dee Graham and this Houston show is a traveling sample of that extravaganza. In Graham’s place as opening act, Houston provided entertainment by Charlie and the Regrets. They put down some smooth voiced honky-tonk sounds flavored with some heavy lap steel ruminations and rocking telecaster solos. Several of the songs had to do with prison and Charlie Harrison did a little plug for KPFT’s prison show, that lets family members of convicts go on the air to let them hear their voices. The set closed with a boisterous rendition of Brad Boyer’s “Mean When I Drink” and Regret’s original “Baytown”.
Introduced by the barbecue vendor, McMurtry took the stage doing “Bayou Tortous” backed by drummer, Daren Hess, and bassist, Cornbread. They continued as a trio through “Red Dress”, “What’s the Matter Now” and “Just Us Kids”, rocking those epic marathon guitar solos that are McMurtry’s trademark.
Utility man, Tim Holt, joined the band on stage to kick off a series of tunes from “Complicated Game”, starting with a very rocking version of “How’m I Gonna Find You Now?”. They rolled on through “Copper Canteen”, “You Got to Me” and “I Ain’t Got a Place”.
The Continental crowd was the usual milling, flirting, yakety group that frequents the spot on Main Street and yet James McMurtry grabbed them back again with his classic “Choctaw Bingo”, wringing every bit of energy from that tune before going solo acoustic for “These Things I’ve Come to Know”.
The acoustic part (possibly a plug for his solo show at the Duck the following week) was limited to a single number. This is after all the Continental! The band rejoined the stage to push through the rest of the set with JM classics, like “Painting by Numbers”, “Every Little Bit Counts”, “Childish Things” and “For All I Know”. He continued with “Restless” before introducing “Levelland” as a Robert Earl Keen song that McMurtry had written. The evening ended with a rousing version of “Too Long in the Wasteland”.
In all honesty, this was a James McMurtry show (with slight variations) that I have seen several times over my lifetime. I am not saying that I was disappointed. Far from it! The man has superior lyrics put to quality tunes delivered with talent and enthusiasm. Dylan rocked no better. If you have never caught his shows…or if you have, McMurtry is a rare treat for discerning Americana rockers. I am, however looking forward to next week’s acoustic show…just for a change in perspective.
James McMurtry Alone and Acoustic at the Mucky Duck
I took my place at the bar in McGonigel’s Mucky Duck for the early show of James McMurtry’s acoustic gig on last Saturday night. I’ve been to a number of electric McMurtry show, but have not made one of these before and I’m actually pretty fired up. McMurtry took the stage and did some fine tuning while Tim Holt sat down at the sound board.
The show kicked off with the poetic “St. Mary of the Woods” and rolled into that theme to jealousy, “Red Dress”. McMurtry put down his six string and moved to twelve string to perform “Copper Canteen” off of his latest compilation. The Mucky Duck venue is quieter than the Continental Club or the Satellite Lounge, or any other place that I’ve seen McMurtry perform. Hence, his lyrics come to the forefront and he has written some great one-liners. “Rachel’s Song” features the line “If anyone can claim they’re alright, then so can I”. I will continue to pick out and present some of my favorite McMurtry lines through this article.
One thing that became apparent rather early in the show was that James McMurtry flat out owns the twelve string guitar. I am used to watching guitarists pick up the twelve string for one or two songs, knit their brows and stare down at the fretboard carefully watching finger placement. Not McMurtry! He looked just as comfortable sporting the twelve as he does playing with six strings.
The performance rolled on flowing through “You Got to Me” and “I Ain’t Got a Place” to a surprisingly effective acoustic “Choctaw Bingo”. The contrast between tonight’s show and that at the Continental last week bubbled up when the line about getting between his cousins rolled out, the audience didn’t blink, while last week the line was met with hoots and hollers.
Next was “Hurricane Party” with the perplexing line, “I don’t want another drink, I only want the last one again.” McMurtry continued to rock the acoustic with “How’m I Gonna Find You Now?” and “Long Island Sound” from the latest album “Complicated Game”. He moved back to the six string for “Levelland” and “Carlisle’s Haul” featuring the line, “At the end of the rope, there’s a little more rope, most times.”
There followed a rare performance of “The Lights of Cheyenne”, this being my first time hearing the song, although it was featured on “Live in Aught Three”. It became clear to me that James McMurtry sings for his dinner as he performed “No More Buffalo” and “Restless”.
The show was ended with the song that first pulled me in as a James McMurtry fan, “Peter Pan”. For some very obvious reasons, the lines, “I can’t grow up, because I’m much too old now. I guess I really did it this time, Maw” spoke to me. There are some things in life, you find, that you just can’t undo.
After years of seeing James McMurtry in a loud electric venue, this pensive and lively experience is one that I would recommend to any real McMurtry fan.