10/2 Deadnecks/Big John Bates at Manny’s
When I received the palm-sized concert flyer for the Deadnecks/Big John Bates show, I knew I would have to go. I was turned off by the fact that it was on a Tuesday night, on the farthest edge of the West End, but I’d never seen either of those bands before, and the lure of a new experience was too powerful. The doors opened at nine PM. Tickets were only available at the door, so I paid the cover and found a seat near the bar. The crowd was thin; it was a Tuesday night, after all. However, I don’t think the people that did show up would have missed it—many in the crowd, sporting worn-out clothes and armfuls of tattoos, looked like they didn’t care what night it was as long as the beer was cold and the music was loud. The show was in full swing by nine-thirty.
Despite Deadnecks having played many shows around Billings over the past few years and the fact that I drink alongside the band members on a regular basis, I admit with some embarrassment that I’d never seen them play before this show. I went in not knowing what to expect, and came away impressed. The local trio knows how to put on a wild show. Their sound is a crazy mix of traditional country, and hardcore/punk rock; it combined fast-picking bluegrass with hog-slaughtering aggression, equal parts Hank Williams and Whiskey Riot. The band had (perhaps unwittingly) illustrated their sound with subtle visual representation: lead guitarist Luke wore a dirty jacket covered with punk-band patches, bassist Steve wore a Slayer T-shirt, and drummer Johnnie wore a cowboy hat. All the band’s influences, right out there for everybody to see. Deadnecks played fast and loud for about forty minutes, even spawning a small mosh pit in front of the stage in the process.
Big John Bates kept the night’s Western-style theme alive when they took the stage at 10:30. I’d never heard of this band before, but since seeing them in concert, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised. The band plays smooth rockabilly, flavored with electronica and a little lounge, like a mash-up between Tiger Army and the Doors. The result is a spooky, jangling groove, made all the more creepy with the stage bathed in bloody red light from the overhead lighting rig. The quartet used a guitar, drums, a keyboard, heavy brass, and like any self-respecting rockabilly band, a stand-up bass. The crowd didn’t start a mosh pit like it had for Deadnecks, but enjoyed the music anyway—Big John Bates’ music doesn’t really lend itself to moshing. It’s more like something you’d hear in the background of a grindhouse movie murder scene. The band said their farewells at a quarter past eleven.
I headed out into the cool evening happy that I’d decided to see the show. Reflecting on it, the concert made clear that country music is somehow immortal; no matter how many people profess to hate country/western, it’s made an indelible mark on music history. I’ve never been a huge fan of country music myself, and I’d never seen these bands before, but I know that if I get another chance to see them again, I’ll sure take it.
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