“A lot of people don’t realize what’s really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidents and things. They don’t realize that there’s this, like, lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. Give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you’re thinkin’ about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly, someone’ll say, like, “plate,” or “shrimp,” or “plate of shrimp,” out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin’ for one, either. It’s all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.”
–Tracey Walter in Repo Man
Today’s post is brought to you by Alabama. Not the band Alabama. The state of Alabama. Heart of Dixie. Birthplace of Hank Williams. The band? Hell, they’re way too expensive for The Adios Lounge. Trust me, I’ve seen the rider and knowing the words to “High Cotton” will only get you so far. Even Randy Owen‘s goatee gets its own dressing room and NO BROWN M&MS!
So, let us pilot the Tardis to 1999, setting general course for Tuscaloosa, Alabama, specific coordinates for The Chukker. The Chukker, now defunct, was the shitty little bar that could, the kind of place where you’d get a contact high after 10 minutes on the back patio — er, “beer garden” — then walk back inside to see a dude with a table on his face. The only place residing in a more colorful parallel universe is Sam’s Town Point in south Austin. Sam’s is a doublewide/bar/venue/family compound and the only place I’ve ever been prompted to ask, “Hey, who’s the hot one-armed chick?” True story. We’re talking pantheon level quality.
On this particular night in May 1999, The Chukker was hosting two bands bringing the MC5-meets-Motörhead heavy ordnance: The Hellacopters and The Quadrajets. The Copters were touring behind their third album, Grande Rock, and The Quadrajets were proving that not everything coming out of Auburn sucked.
The opening band that night, The Dexateens, were locals whose drummer, “Sweet Dog” (aka “The Midnight Mayor of Tuscaloosa”), was a student of mine in American Studies. I think the picture at the top of the page is from this show, but that could be a false memory. I do remember thinking that this was a tough bill for a young band because the Hellacopters and Quadrajets circa ’99 didn’t fuck around. They brought the no-bullshit sledgehammer rock for three hours. I was impressed that the Dexateens didn’t allow themselves to be intimidated by that, or at least didn’t show it. They tried very hard to be very good, and fell short, but had fun and definitely didn’t suck. You could see the quality in there, trying to get out.
By coincidence, another student of mine was at that show, a likable young waif named Joey Thompson. He was friends with The Dexateens and starting to write songs and play out. In fact, a few years after this show, just before emigrating from Tuscaloosa to Austin — the same trip I made the year after that Chukker show — he recorded a batch of songs with Sweet Dog and Elliott McPherson, Dexateens’ singer/guitarist. The session was with Robbie Kirk at T-Town’s 600 Studios, the same producer and same room where the Dexateens cut their self-titled debut and its amazing follow-up, Red Dust Rising.
Maybe it was coincidence, but it was in this period, roughly 2004-07, that Thompson’s songs, like those of Dexateen songwriters, McPherson and John Smith, began drawing inspiration from a life spent in Alabama. The state became both a geographic location and a narrative entity. Thompson, despite (and probably because of) living in Texas, named his new band, The Archibalds, in honor of Northport’s slap-your-mama-good BBQ joint (pictured below) and titled their first record, O Camellia, after Bama’s state flower. Alabama looms large in several Dexateens’ songs as well, including “Red Dust Rising,” “Take Me To The Speedway” (which we’ll get to), “Pine Belt Blues” (which we’ll also get to), and “Freight Train.”
Is it coincidence that the Dexateens and Archibalds released two of my favorite albums from the past year, Lost And Found from the former, Easy Living from the latter? Fact is, I openly root for these bands because of our shared history. It’s a connection to an era when Tuscaloosa could fall back on The Chukker, Vinyl Solution, and Shaun Alexander in The Swamp. Once you Roll Tide, you don’t backslide.
Intersecting chronology aside, the Dexateens have developed into one of the flat-out best live bands in the country and are maybe a year away from entering the rarefied Uncle Tupelo, Faces, Replacements territory. It also doesn’t hurt that you can download Lost And Found for free from their website. Of course, that works both ways. We should be living in a world where the Dexateens make money releasing every album on 180 gram vinyl and some combination of CDs and iTunes. L&F was free because there wasn’t another financial option that made sense and that has to be a bitter pill.
The Archibalds haven’t been around long enough to get bitter. In some ways, they remind me of the Dexateens circa 2003-04. Right on the cusp of the next level, discovering what works and what doesn’t, and getting the band telepathy on lockdown. Easy Living is a great album, but it’s only a beginning. Like the Dexateens, coincidentally, The Archibalds have yet to face down the long-term touring issue. That might be the final level for both bands, who knows?
The lattice of coincidence will strike you dumb, winding its way backwards to a seemingly insignificant night until finally revealing its wisdom. If nothing else, it proves my theory that everything you need to know about life you can learn from Repo Man. Just thinking about it makes me hungry. Plate of shrimp, anyone?
RAISE YOUR FIST UP TO OLD HANNAH
Archibalds – Sinking Ships
O Camellia, 2007
Austin Powell nails it in his Austin Chronicle review of Easy Living, comparing The Archibalds to “the Gourds and Beck’s early slacker raps.” I think that’s pretty accurate. Thompson’s songwriting occasionally ventures into the funky acoustic country-blues of One Foot In The Grave and Mellow Gold, and the band mines a folk-country-soul hybrid familiar to Gourds fans, detouring through everything from bluegrass to hip-hop.
“Sinking Ships” comes from The Archibalds’ debut, O Camellia, an album of songs paying homage to Sulphur Creek, Elk River, boll weevils, and yes, high cotton. Musically, the song is zydekin to The Gourds’ “County Orange,” what with its accordion lead and acoustic guitar push-push. I like how the baritone sax and trumpet ride on top of the accordion, forming a counterpoint to the vocal harmonies. In fact, there’s a great syncopation between the different harmonic elements, and the whole shootin’ match is pulled along by Thompson’s driving acoustic guitar. Unpretentious, white-buckled anarchy with a side of white barbecue sauce.
Archibalds – Hood Rats
Easy Living, 2009
One of the best songs on Easy Living is weaponized by Seth Gibbs. His bass is the song’s anchor point, especially when he starts walking the dog in the chorus. Who does he think he is, Paul McCartney on loan from 1969? Actually, Thompson gives the song almost a Ray Davies vibe, in its steady lilt, understated, yet assured narrative voice, and even in the unexpected use of a flute to double the main riff.
Archibalds – The Choir
Easy Living, 2009
“Gospel train caught in the rain,
Loaded down for 40 days,
While the choir’s softly singing.”
Soulful, churchgoing funk, “The Choir” would make Bobby Charles and Doug Sahm proud they’d written it — and you’re reading one of the biggest Sahm fans of all-time. It’s carried along by a great melody and keyboard riff, the vocals and vocal harmonies are outstanding, Gibbs’ bass sweeps all over the joint (not unlike Jimmy Smith of The Gourds), I love that killer overdriven harmonica solo, and though it would SO easy to overreach in any respect, the song maintains a simple dignity. I’m just sayin’, it’s a slippery slope to “I Want To Know What Love Is” and I’m glad to see The Archibalds display fundamentally sound defense.
TAKE ME TO THE SPEEDWAY
“When I first met this band they wanted to record a record … trouble was, I had already recorded that record with The Quadrajets. Don’t get me wrong, they did an amazing version of The Quadrajets, but they weren’t being completely true to themselves and I think deep down, they knew it. ‘Cardboard Hearts’ was the first tune that showed something else was going on deeper here. It sounded sort of like what the Meat Puppetsmight have sounded like if they had come from the south and not the southwest. (The Dexateens) hadn’t realized yet that being yourself IS and will always be COOL. I guess I just happened to be the one to come along at the right time to plant the seed. Country + punk + early ‘70s rock … well, If YOU like it, who cares what anybody else thinks?”
—Tim Kerr, testifying on the Dexateens website
“Pine Belt” isn’t simply James Gang awesome, it contains 27 separate levels of Alabama Whup Ass.
“Take me to the speedway,
Drive me through the red clay,
We’ll just go in circles everyday.”
The songwriting development of McPherson and Smith owes a lot to Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, whose own embrace of the redneck diaspora and the attendant Alabama mythology must’ve been an influence. The band even enlisted Hood as co-producer for their 2007 album, Hardwire Healing. All that said, “Take Me To The Speedway,” from the Dexateens’ breakthrough second album, Red Dust Rising, is fucking epic independent of its referent sources. Great build, huge cascading guitar parts, it’s like John Fogerty getting “Cortez The Killer” in a headlock made of tequila shots. Other bands should fear this song.
If I’m ever listening to a song and the words Exile On Main Street come into my head, an angel gets his wings. Little known fact. This tune sounds like something Rod Stewart should be singing with The Faces in 1971. I love how the drums come in at :50, set apart from the rest of the band, who apparently were recording in a bathysphere. Awesome effect.
Dexateens – Slender Thread
Lost And Found, 2009
Download album for free
“Everyday people got to hustle some cover,
From the bombs that you’re dropping out the aeroplane,
Folks will remember what you told ’em tomorrow,
And hold it up to what you told ’em yesterday.”
This one also reminds me of the Stones, but from their underrated 1965-67 period with Brian Jones at his most focused (think “I’m Free” through Between The Buttons). Mostly written by Smith, “Slender Thread” is damn near a pop song, but with a great electric guitar lead and scathing lyrical content.
Dexateens – Sweet Little Loser
Lost And Found, 2009
Download album for free
Another Exile rip, it also reminds me of that first Izzy Stradlin album and all that I love about Hollywood Town Hall-era Jayhawks. Blissfully great harmonies, sweet guitar lead, what country music and rock music should sound like more often.
Lyrics, songwriting, and discussions of artistic growth aside, the Dexateens are first and foremost a balls-out monster live band and their greatness needs to be filtered through that fact. To wit:
Dexateens – Naked Ground
Little Willie’s, Tuscaloosa, AL
The Drive-By Truckers have had the Dexateens open many shows for many years. While The Truckers are bigger in the public consciousness, have established themselves as a viable road act, and can hold their own in the volume department, I’d hate to be anyone following the Dexateens right now. Pound-for-pound, I think they’re the best rock ‘n’ roll band in the country and you better bring your A+ game if you expect to follow their tornadic activity. Supposedly, the Dexateens are on the road with Lucero. Poor Lucero. When that tour ends, you’ll have to identify them by dental records.
Dexateens – Magdelene
40 Watt Club, Athens, GA
January 12, 2008
While you can still hear echoes of the Meat Puppets, this track is right in The Neckbones’ wheelhouse. You wanna talk about all-time great southern rock bands? You don’t have to go very far down the list before you reach The Neckbones. In fact, consider them in the short queue for upcoming Adios Lounge topics.
What makes “Magdelene” particularly memorable is the very ending, after the band finishes and the Dexateens unexpectedly rock the T-Town pride. Remember, this set was in Athens, home to the University of Georgia, a fairly staunch SEC rival. That’s Smith teaching the Bulldogs to behave with the virtuoso crowd taunt. “ROOOOOOOLL TIDE, ROLL!!!” Awesome. I love how the crowd is momentarily stunned by the sheer heft of balls before heaping abuse on the band.
Roll Tide, bitches.