Shovels & Rope Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR – 4/6
Cowpunk is alive and well and picking up its mail at a small rural postal office in Charleston, South Carolina, run by a little old lady with a taste for chew and a .45 under the counter. The rest of the time it criss-crosses the country on a tour bus with a banged up kick drum, a handful of duct-taped guitars and a pair of shouters named Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst.
Trent and Hearst are Shovels and Rope, of course, she of the pink gingham shirt and he of the Cooter’s Garage baseball cap, the pair of them a formidable source of noise, provocateurs of fuzzy guitars and slapback snare drums. With a ton of “windshield time” on their travel log, the pair landed in Portland for a sold-out Saturday night show at the city’s Doug Fir Lounge.
After a quick warm-up from local country rockers Denver, the pair took the stage and rattled off a 20+ song, 100-minute set that channeled everything from Hank Williams to Wall of Voodoo to Led Zeppelin to The White Stripes.
The title cut from O Be Joyful was pretty fierce, with Hearst delivering the vocals in a deceptively sexy snarl. So, too, the super-fast two-step “Kemba’s Got the Cabbage Moth Blues” was pretty cool, though Hearst’s introductory comment — “Canada is nice and Portland people are useful” —still has people scratching their heads.
“All bottled up, a beggin’ dog with my tongue out” they growled on the deep dirty blues of “Tickin’ Bomb,” the second best song of the show behind “Hail Hail,” the anthemic offering to the gods of the 33’s and the 45’s. From their first album, the pair dusted off the beautiful “Magdalina” and the rumbling “Night Train” homage “Hollowpoint Blues.”
Though they both occasionally played a small keyboard to round out some of the songs, there were times when the set begged for something more than drums and guitar and Casiotone. It would have been cool to hear some of the acoustic guitar and horn textures that make their last album so strong. But the ball-capped boys and their urban cowgirl dates on the dance floor didn’t seem to mind. For them, it was a sing-a-long party and, for Trent, Hearst and their cowpunk companion, another sold out night before getting back behind the windshield on the way to their next stop.