One of the reason I like working in Chinatown so much is that days like Tuesday happen out of nowhere.
On Monday, some Facebook/music friends from Atlanta tagged me about a group coming to town: the Mulligan Brothers. I’d never heard of them but they were playing right down the street from my office at Hill Country, and there was no cover. It was a school night for my wife, so she was going to bed early anyway and I said, “What the heck?”
Then I remembered that the Drive-By Truckers were opening Tuesday night for Eric Church at the Verizon Center, which is also right down the street. Country music concerts are often much, much cheaper than rock shows and that made me wonder if I could score a cheap ticket to check out one of my favorite bands in an unusual setting for them. My calculation: If I watched the DBTs and then ducked out (no knock on Church; mainstream country these days is just not my thing), I should still be able to get to Hill Country in time to see the Mulligans.
And that’s just how it worked out. The scalpers weren’t offering any El Cheapo tickets to Church’s show, but the box office had opened up some behind-the-stage seats and I got in for a mere $20 (actually a lower cover than I’ve paid to see the DBTs elsewhere). I sat down and 10 minutes later, the band hit the stage.
Now, let me describe to you what many a DBT show is like. You might see the band members get hammered; they might play for two-plus hours straight; a number of their songs feature well-placed obscenities and in-your-face scenarios, and you often get to a point where you can see the line between art and chaos and you wait to see which side the guys are going to land. None of that happened here, nor could it.
“Good afternoon,” Patterson Hood said jokingly in introducing the band as the set started (it was 7:30 p.m.). The band then tore through 50 minutes or so of songs, emphasizing the loud and rowdy, including a surprisingly big chunk of “Southern Rock Opera.” There was no mention of champagne hand jobs, or of trophy tail wives taking boner pill rides, to mention two of about a bajillion DBT lines that you probably don’t want to sing when you’re opening an Eric Church concert. They did close with “Let There Be Rock” and they did get really loud at times, but it wasn’t translating in this environment. The audience was mildly appreciative but didn’t get into the action; it’s tough for guys in their 40s and 50s to be opening for a hot mainstream country music act in an arena setting.
My departure during the intermission caused some consternation among the Verizon staff at the entrance; people were still coming in. “Can I help you, sir?” a ticket-taker asked me three times. “I’m leaving. I just came to see the opening act,” I finally replied. She looked at me as though I might be a stroke victim.
I walked downstairs at Hill Country and the crowd was small, perhaps 50 or so people. That was understandable; the Mulligan Brothers had never played in town and this was a Tuesday night. I liked them even though they were a bit more Americana Central Casting than I’d ideally like; more woodshedding and songwriting will take care of that. They played some strong songs even as the inevitable yack-and-tweet huddles of people created the usual annoying distractions. Why do thoese people always insist on standing at or near the front of the stage?
I had some brisket before the band came out. I’ve eaten at Hill Country a number of times now, and the product can be pretty variable, but this was without a doubt a Top Three Briskets placeholder. It actually was better than anything I had in Lockhart, Texas when I was there a couple of years ago — and that is a town that takes its brisket very, very seriously. Hill Country’s was moist, smoky but not oversmoked, utterly delicious, seasoned in the Texas fashion with salt and pepper only. And then there was music.
Overall: A very good day. It would have been better if my wife could have been there, but I don’t get a lot of days like this any more and I need to enjoy them when they come.