Humor, scathing wit mark McMurtry show
August 7, 2008
ASPEN ” If there was any confusion as to just whose world you were entering last Saturday night at Belly Up Aspen, James McMurtry made it extremely clear: his.
The Texas troubadour spent the greater part of the night pontificating about a wide range of subjects, from the Iraq war to the banalities, struggles and simple pleasures of blue-collar life in the United States.
But what sets McMurtry apart from his musical contemporaries is his scathing, sardonic wit, which he delivered in every song to expose the absurdities and injustices he sees in everyday life.
As McMurtry’s rabid, whiskey- and beer-soaked fans hollered out requests for various songs, McMurtry replied deadpan: “You all know what you want to hear, but I know what you’re gonna hear.” Interactions like this prompted the die-hard fans to take to the dance floor and hoist their drinks into the air in salute to McMurtry and his hard-driving songs.
The set that McMurtry and his band played unapologetically skewered the current political state while celebrating, grieving, and even joking about the struggles and triumphs of the working-class citizen. McMurtry himself cuts the appearance of the American Everyman ” scruffy beard, unkempt hair, baseball cap, beer-soaked polo shirt ” which adds even more authenticity to the heft of his songs and lyrics.
Backing McMurtry was bassist/backup vocalist Ronnie Johnson, drummer Daren Hess, and lead guitarist Tim Holt, who appeared on stage after a one-song solo acoustic set by McMurtry. It appeared as if the band’s main job was to lay the groundwork onto which McMurtry could build his narrative edifice, tear it down, and move onto the next song, unabashedly, never looking back. What made this effective was McMurtry’s use of a different guitar for almost every song, which changed the texture and flavor of a given song’s thematic content.
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Following particularly solemn songs about war and injustices, McMurtry reverted to the elixir of comedy. One particularly poignant moment came while McMurtry played an electric 12-string mandolin/guitar hybrid while singing the lyrics, “Tomorrow morning I’ll be sober and you’ll be just as ugly.”
It was this interplay of sincerity and not taking yourself too seriously that really shone through McMurtry’s entire set and kept the audience interested throughout, which is one of the large themes of the 40-something rocker’s latest album, “Just Us Kids.”