The Band of Heathens - Live at Antone's by James Dunning
Simply put, the Band of Heathens defies convention.
In an age when solo artists abound and lone singer/songwriters front mediocre bands, the Heathens present three skilled vocalists with top-notch musicianship. When many in Texas seemed concerned with becoming the next Cross Canadian Ragweed, the Heathens offer up a more palatable dish of Lone Star lonesomeness and Southern fried hospitality. And while most of today’s acts wouldn’t even dream of doing the requisite (and often unnecessary) live album until they’ve got two or three studio albums under their belt, the Heathens have begun their careers with two back-to-back live gems.
The band’s second album, Live at Antone’s, is a DVD/CD combo that features tunes from their first outing, Live at Momo’s, as well as a bevy of smartly written new songs. Presented in two different formats, the Heathens are best when the air is light and electric, the metaphors heavy and cheeky, and the groove rollicking. And while the audio version of their spring 2007 show at Antone’s in Austin is richer and fuller (and keeps the listener more engaged) than its video companion, both discs are enjoyable in their own right.
To fully appreciate a Heathens album is to first understand the make up of the band. The band sports three singer/guitarists in Gordy Quist, Ed Jurdi and Colin Brooks. All three are talented songwriters and their many years of playing alongside each other in the Austin music scene afford them certain comfortability and ease whenever on stage. The rhythm section is anchored by bassist Seth Whitney and drummer John Chipman. While each of the band’s frontmen maintain respectable solo careers, they are best when harmonizing and complimenting each other in the Heathens.
Live at Antone’s reprises many of the best tunes from the band’s first CD, including “One More Step,” “Bumblebee,” “Judas ‘Scariot Blues” and the fan-favorite cover of standard “Ain’t No More Cane,” a song that recently showed up on Lyle Lovett’s new disc. (The Heathens’ version is way better.) Antone’s also debuts several new treats in the ever-so-subtle “Cornbread,” the hard-driving “Unsleeping Eye,” and the lonesome “Philadelphia” among others.
Two songs stand out as prototypical BOH: “Rehab Facility” and “Jackson Station.” In “Rehab,” Quist intimately personifies redemption in the form of his female savior. From the opening line “She’s my rehab facility/For a wayward soul like me,” the listener is immediately engaged in a tale of brokenness and longing that, like most Heathens songs, is smartly crafted. In “Jackson Station,” the band is light-hearted, witty and in lock-step with one another musically. The Heathens consistently offer uncanny vocal harmonies and jam band, everyone-take-a-solo turnarounds that energize their songs.
If the Antone’s CD captures the energy of the band’s live show, the DVD, despite being well-produced, does more to dilute that in-person experience. Filmed and produced by Austin’s ME Television, the DVD captures the band’s live show in a classic MTV Unplugged format: dark backdrop, limited lighting and votive candles galore. Certainly there’s a sense of intimacy presented here wherein BOH seems at home. And the show – edited down to about an hour and featuring mostly the “newer” songs not found on the Momo’s disc – features the band in fine form and at the top of their game. Spliced in between numbers are disjointed behind-the-scenes shots and footage from the band’s summer 2007 tour to Colorado and the Southwest. These scenes showcase the personality of the band but distract from the “live” experience of the disc. In fact, die-hard fans of the band may be disappointed with the lackluster way the band’s sound and performance translates on TV. Although the DVD may not completely deliver the true emotion of the live experience that dedicated Heathens fans have become accustom, it is a wonderful addition to the live CD. Additionally, the bonus materials on the DVD are fun and insightful and include some live footage of the band’s Gruene Hall performances. For those who may not have seen the band live or have the chance to see the group any time soon, the DVD will give a solid visual to accompany the solid live recording.
All in all, Live at Antone’s is a great second chapter in the Band of Heathens’ already storied career. There are plenty of new songs to fall in love with. And keen listeners can only imagine what’s in store on their full length, Ray Wylie Hubbard-produced studio album when it drops later this year.
James Dunning is a singer/songwriter who fronts Lost Immigrants, a Texas-based Americana band. You can contact our TMT writers from our contact page.