Tuesday November 16
Chicago Avenue was quiet and hazy on a cool, unusually mild Tuesday evening in November. The crowd strolled into SPACE and strolled across the room to see a set by the Texan singer-songwriter Hayes Carll.
The singer-songwriter Caroline Spence from Nashville supported him on tour. Spence took the stage with her guitar and opened the evening with a huge thread of her own hearty melodies. As a solo act, her songs have a huge impact and are twice as sweet. She played a number of songs from her 2019 debut album, Mint Condition, as well as some new material. Her sound is gently infused with the Nashville singer-songwriter tradition, but the power with which she performs her songs makes them distinctive and brilliantly her own. For a moment it felt like sitting at The Bluebird for a matinee or having a drink on a dive in the East End of Nashville in the Five Points neighborhood so many years ago.
The usual clink of empty whiskey glasses on the last call and barroom heartbreak are fringed for good measure, but Spence deals with these subjects and puts her own personal stamp on things. Amarillo hotel wine and screaming songs into an iPhone while on the go, hyacinths and her grandmother’s wisdom, angels, demons and perfectionism are some of the topics she brings up.
Caroline Spence will perform at the Evanston SPACE on November 16th. (Photo by Patrick Romanowski)
On a couple of songs she checked the audience: “Would you like to hear a nice song inspired by a line from Walt Whitman, or a new shitty bar song?” For the latter, everyone lined up and shouted accordingly. It shook the awe of the light a little and blended the tone of the night into something more real. The song was a slight nod to the stereotypes of the Nashville singer-songwriter scene, which she tacitly won by leading by elegant example.
Hayes Carll took the stage with his band of three and he said very little and got right into it. Carll himself is a towering man with a handsome, sullen face. He plays a great guitar and sings with an honest voice. Much like his songwriting, he looks quick to smile and enjoy life, but he’ll be just as quick to wipe it down as a windshield wiper in the rain and reveal a man in the driver’s seat with a tired grin, game for driving the road, however Damn good to know how long the ride is going to be.
He presented a number of songs from his latest album, You Get It All, which was released earlier this month. The album is great and the performance of the material was sharp and done with near studio precision. His backing band snapped and roared with firepower, capturing the album’s dynamics with a level of artistry and ease that is a trademark of true Austin and Nashville aces. From straightforward competitors for country hits to groovier, winding tracks and extended hypnotic ballads, the variety of modes within a particular genre in which Carll writes testifies to his own individuality as a songwriter.
The first cut of the new album “Nice Things”, an ironic country ballad, is about God going on a fishing trip to Georgia and catching an oil drum, hitchhiking and being picked up by a stranger who offers her a train. the prompt she is arrested for participating. The choir complains, “This is why your whole world is on fire, this is why you cannot drink from your own sources, this is why you cannot have beautiful things.”
Hayes Carll and his band will perform at the Evanston SPACE on November 16th. (Photo by Patrick Romanowski)
Soft banter between songs about card games and rescue dogs, brunch gigs at tourist traps and the virtues of a good nap were woven into the performance with incredible ease and brought the sardonic, poetic side of Carll into focus. Introducing his drummer, Mike Meadows (an experienced drummer who used an eclectic range of percussive materials throughout the performance), he said, “He has a kick and a snare … and some that he finds in the alley before the gig. … a can of Old Milwaukee, a spoon, a spatula … and what is that? “
For the last end of the set, Carll played “She Left Me For Jesus” and “Drunken Poets Dream,” both favorites from his 2008 album “Trouble In Mind,” which rocked the crowd.
From The Woodlands, Texas, Carll has been honing his craft for a long time. With many awards, including a Grammy nomination for his 2016 hit “Chances Are”, his repertoire has spanned almost 20 years of continuous album production. His music carries a silver dagger of irony on his hip that makes you feel like you’ve lived it and know it well. There is a catchiness to the songs that is surely the stuff of hit country music, but there is an honest sensitivity and wit to his approach that reveals much greater depth if you can manage to listen carefully and tap your foot at the same time .
It was a pleasure to see him perform in an intimate place like the SPACE, and it was twice as nice to see great musicians capture the essence of a dynamic sound and lead you to its place of origin. That is an achievement in itself. We’re taking it on for a warm Tuesday night in November and we’re definitely looking forward to seeing Carll back in town soon.