Sad country songs, all night long - it's driving me insane
Well I'm drownin' my fear in cheap American beer and I'm lookin' for somebody to blame
It was fun finally getting an opportunity to see Nine Pound Hammer on Friday night. While their music isn't the sort that would have the same influence on me as Slint, I still have very sharp and fond memories surrounding their music. When I was in college, a friend of mine named Martin was into all sorts of Lexington bands and had all the records. Even though I haven't heard them in years, I can still sing bits and pieces of "Yellow Cling Peaches" or "When Grandma Drives the Bus" by Government Cheese. He was also the person who first introduced me to Nine Pound Hammer's first record The Mud, The Blood, and the Beer, which at the time, I didn't realize was a reference to Johnny Cash's "Boy Named Sue". In particular, he played a song for me from that record called "Redneck Romance", a tongue-in-cheek look at small-town life with central Kentcuky-specific references to things like Happy Chandler, the Executive Inn, and the Brass "A" Saloon. That must've been around '88-'89.
Billy hangs a picture of Thelma in the garage for all the boys to see
She was voted Miss Transmission, heck, way on back in '73
Later, while doing college radio, they released their second record Smokin' Taters for the respectable Crypt label in '92. I spun that record countless times during my shows for whoever was listening at the god-awful hours I was on the air. It was with that record that they sealed their status as one of Lexington's premiere bands and I guess in some small way, I contributed to that.
Friday night, they played for an hour and a half! Not a small feat for a band that does quick rock songs. They played a balanced set from all four of their albums, including "Redneck Romance" and "Drive-In/Little Help" from their first record. They also played the 45 second theme song they were tapped to write for an new Adult Swim cartoon airing this fall. They didn't play my favorites from Smokin' Taters though, but I think it's because they're trying to emphasize the "cow" in their cow-punk legacy; they seemed to stick with the country & western influenced rawk that they do so well like "Stranded Outside Tater Knob", "Cadillac Inn", "Feelin' Kinda Froggy", and "Don't Get No". I would've loved to have heard "Wrong Side Of The Road" or "Everything You Know Is Wrong", though.
It fills your life with an empty space
Ancient myths, war cliches
Keep to yourself and quietly go along
So clean your plate, do as your told
Worhsip all that's bought and sold
'Til everything you know is wrong
What was most fun about it was the homecoming atmosphere; a beloved band mingling with friends. As the guys started to show-up in the club watching the opening bands, people came-up to them to say hi and many hugs and back-pats were given. Even on stage, vocalist Scott in particular, interacted personally with the crowd; a crowd that knew every word to his songs and sang along with him. One thing which was strange: being someone who has seen Blaine's "other band", Nashville Pussy, play 7 times, watching his wife Ruyter Suys reduced to the role of roadie, setting up gear and operating a video camera from the shadows rather than the whirling-dervish, kung-fu kicking mad-woman in the spotlight.
Nine Pound Hammer has a huge audience in Europe where they still have a palate for good, old-fashioned, unadulterated rock and roll. They never really caught-on with broader American audiences, though. They have a small following among the rawk/cow-punk crowd nationally, but not enough to warrant a full-scale U.S. tour. I think this is due to the themes in their music. I'm sure it translates somewhat to small-town America and the South in particular, but I don't think anyone outside of central Kentucky really gets the duality of these themes. There are some who probably think that everything they do is poking-fun in the spirit of disdain for the redneck experience, while others probably think it is an earnest glamorization of hick culture. The reality is that it's both and I think you have to be from central Kentucky to really understand that. Kentucky as a whole has a national reputation as a state of shoeless hillbillies in overalls, yet central Kentucky is particularly affluent with multi-billion dollar whiskey and thoroughbred horse industries; not to mention 3 universities and about a half-dozen private colleges serving a regional populace of barely a half-million. So we make our own pokes at the incest and illiteracy jokes, cherish our southern drawl, and take a sick pride in a region that produces Richard Hell, Les McCann, and Wendell Berry while simultaneously giving the the world the likes of Jim Varney and John Michael Montgomery. Nine Pound Hammer is the best and worst of these things, all rolled up into a big honkin' chunk of rock and roll.
So while you're blazing across Europe boys, put the hammer down. Remember to specify your bourbon neat or those cretins will sure as fuck put ice in it. All of us here back home who love ya know as well as you do...