Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Old Crown Medicine Show
Henry Fonda Theater 9/5/06

September 06, 2006

Yesterday, my partner asked me, “Where have all the alt-country flowers gone?” But he already knew the answer – record company marketing divisions have moved on. When will they ever learn?
The rest of Los Angeles’s No Depression subscribers showed up with us at The Fonda Theater last night for a rather spirited show from Old Crow Medicine Show. This was the fist show on a national tour to support their second album for Nettwerk America, Big Iron World. My exposure to OCMS first occurred through one of their many appearances on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion on NPR. In fact, they preformed live at the Hollywood Bowl with Prairie Home in 2005. This was especially notable, given that they opened with a song about the evils of cocaine, “Tell It To Me”, the first track on their previous eponymous release. (Cocaine is not typical subject matter for Prairie Home even though OCMS has touched on it twice in their recordings strangely enough.)

The Fonda show was raw, energetic, and fun, even if the lousy concrete-box acoustics made for an uneven pair of sets. Of course there was something charming in how low-tech the whole affair was. No silly back up band, no opening act, and a group of young men who generally seemed enthused about playing to such a “large” crowd in a roughly 70% occupied tiny hall in LA. Most of all, however, it was refreshing to hear a group of young men playing music informed by an American folk tradition without feeling the need to be ironic or arch. That is perhaps what I like about the band most - even more than their somewhat populist ethic.

However, this is LA, and audiences are used to competing with performers for who can be more ironic. Given OCMS’ refusal to deliver on this front, many in the crowd seemed confused about how to go about enjoying this music. But somehow they managed. Of course this is a city that sells more country music than anywhere in the nation yet can no longer support a radio station to play it on the airwaves. (In fact, it would appear that allowing Rick Dees, of all people, to return to radio would be more profitable.) I, of course, found this news comforting in a way given that we fans of classical music have been consuming on the “long tail” for decades now and it appears that these forces may be catching up with other sectors as well.

Anyway, catch the Old Crow Medicine Show, if you haven’t already, on Prairie Home Companion on September 23rd on NPR, if you get a chance.

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