Old Crow Medicine Show
Avalon, August 8
By Rena Kosnett
It pains me to say this about Old Crow Medicine Show, because the Nashville quintet just seem so nice. Kind. Smiley. Like the good country boys they are. I would love to be friends with all of them. And after attending their packed Avalon show last night and discovering how many die hard fans they have in L.A., I know I'm going to get flak for saying so, but their music is just too easy.
I don't mean easy as in simple—some of their arrangements are quite intricate and complex, incorporating banjos, guitars, fiddles, upright bass, harmonica, vocal harmonies. I mean easy as in the opposite of difficult. There was nothing risky in their performance, nothing out of the ordinary, and therefore I didn't gain anything from it. Just a little too tame/lame, as pretty as the music is. It could have been sponsored by Wal-Mart.
All Photos by Rena Kosnett
I expected OCMS to be a little grittier, dirtier, bloodier, because when I hear the term “medicine show,” I think of traveling bands of American gypsies hawking phony elixirs and snake oils to unsuspecting yokels. I think of carnies, buggies, flea circuses. I think of the infamous Louisiana Hadacol Caravan, and of Harmonica Frank Floyd, the dirtiest of dirty old Southern men who traveled with Mississippi medicine shows before he became the first white recording artist for Sam Phillips. I couldn't imagine any of the OCMS guys grabbing a groupie around the waist and taking her backstage the way Harmonica Frank would have. If The Old Crow Medicine Show is claiming to be just that, a medicine show, it is the milquetoast of medicine shows.
Even the crowd was acquiescent. People offered to move so I could take photos, which I greatly appreciated, but it surprised me. I usually have to dodge elbows and avoid eye contact with the much shorter tattooed riot grrrls I step in front of to get a good spot. This crowd was genuinely excited and happy, stomping on the ground and dancing little jigs. One out-of-place looking punky guy kept screaming out for the band to play “CC Rider,” a lovely arrangement of the traditional song OCMS recorded for their 2004 album O.C.M.S. They did eventually play it, and quite beautifully at that — by far their best tune. I also enjoyed “Down Home Girl,” an old R&B track originally recorded by Alvin Robinson, off their latest album Big Iron World, but again, it was nothing extraordinary: “That dress your wearing is made out of fiberglass / everytime time you move like that girl I've got to go to Sunday mass.” Hmmm.
There were also a couple of songs that left me perplexed. One was “Cocaine Habit,” because, well, who writes about cocaine anymore? Who are they, Cream? And the other was “Big Time in the Jungle,” a song about an Alabama boy sent off to Vietnam. Why would they write about Vietnam? Can anyone tell me? It's not as if it's a struggle that's been forgotten, like the subject of the Pogues' popularized Eric Bogle song “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” about the WWI battle of Gallipoli. I mean, it's Vietnam. If they meant to make a comparison to our current quagmire, they dropped the ball by leaving out the other half of the metaphor.
The big saving grace for me was watching Ketch Secor. The man is beautiful. His pinstriped pants and movie star smile were the focus of much of my gaze. Secor is great fun to watch, because he genuinely looks like he's having a fantastic time ripping it up with his various fiddles and harmonicas. All the members of OCMS are great musicians, for that matter. It's just that… well, let me tie in a cultural reference. Remember those Pace Picante TV ads that had the real cowboys dissing the fake cowboy who was dipping his chips in salsa made in New York? Turns out, the members of OCMS met and formed in the Big Apple before making their way back down South. So all I have to say is, “This stuff's made in New York City!”