The roadside of rock and roll is littered with the story of club bands that strike some summer chord and find themselves with a record deal and playing stadiums all in the span of one year before returning to obscurity just as quickly as they had emerged but, this time, with more debt. Often overlooked is the band that works hard, plays a lot of shows, and puts out a good or great record every two years; enough to sustain, but never enough to be part of the radio or TV culture. Slobberbone deserves a better description. The name should be shouted from the mountaintops (and maybe it would be if we all didn’t know it would make our mother’s cringe) but alas, they were a working band. In the span of a decade they put out some great records, burned into people’s memories with a legendary live show, and broke up while they still had a loyal fan base and seemingly lots of songs in the tank. On February 6th and 7th they reformed in their hometown(s) and reminded everyone just what we were missing.
Dan’s Silverleaf, tucked away on Industrial Road in Denton, Texas has always been an appropriate home base for Slobberbone. It’s no frills, locals only feel, could not be further from the college bars that otherwise occupy the town. Its front window appears frozen in time with the announcement of upcoming shows for Son Volt or The Gourds or some other vestige of alt country, the movement that almost was. On the Friday of this double-barreled reunion, it filled up earlier than usual as fans came from around the world (New York, Florida, Holland etc) to re-live the Slobberbone live show.
Local boys, The O’s, opened; a two piece that was comprised of John Pedigo and Taylor Young, a rhythm guitarist and banjo player who also took turns on percussion, using their feet on a bass drum and a tambourine. Sounding a bit like college sensation The Avett Brothers, the guys squeezed in a forty-five minute set. Driven partially by the rapport between the two and well written bluegrass/country songs, the O’s played songs off their upcoming release We Are The O’s .
Slobberbone took the small stage at Dan’s at a little past ten. The bar was at capacity, having sold out nearly a week before. Brian Lane, the prodigal bass player whose relocation to Florida effectively put an end to Slobberbone, appeared tanned and rested. Vocalist Brent Best attired in his ever-present black Husker Du shirt immediately counted the band into “Tilt-a-Whirl”, off their first release Crow Pot Pie, and the next three and a half hours were a blur. The band played like they had never taken a break, delivering over thirty songs to three hundred adoring fans. Scott Danbom of Centro-Matic, who was also at one time a member of Slobberbone, joined in on keyboards and electric fiddle for nearly half the set. Jesse Barr tore through solos from a decade ago like he had been playing them nightly. His role in Slobberbone has always seemed more natural and defined than in its offspring, The Drams.
At their worst Slobberbone remind us how literate and fierce country rock can be in the right hands. At their best, they are one of the finest live bands in the country. Over the years, I have seen them blow bands like the Drive-By Truckers off the stage. There is a reason that they are so beloved in Minneapolis; they were legitimate heirs to the mantle of rock that The Replacements abandoned. And on the first night of a two night run, they were eager to prove that there was no rust. The set list leaned heavily on the more rock oriented end of their catalog in its first hour, with songs culled from Crow Pot Pie, Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today, and Slippage. Brent Best, who writes “dark” as well as anyone in the world, spun tales of a father who accidentally shot his own son, a husband who kills his wife in a bathtub while “Mack the Knife” plays in the background, and a brother who, so upset at the abandonment of his sister at the altar, takes matters into his own hands. Few people survive Brent Best songs. As if his own songs were not lonesome enough, he chose to cover Merle Travis’ “Dark as a Dungeon” and Husker Du’s” Makes No Sense at All”. When the set turned more toward material from Slippage Best took time to tell the story of their appearance on the Late Show with Craig Kilborn and how Anthony Anderson had butchered the record’s name (referring to it as “Spillage” instead of “Slippage”). It was an apt metaphor for the career of one of the best bands to never blow up. How much hope can you have if they don’t even introduce you right?
As is typical fair at Slobberbone shows, the crowd participation extended beyond singing along and into providing a constant source of libation. While the band showed no obvious effect, the set did turn to more country tracks in the second hour.
Night two did not hold much promise after the debauchery of night one. Few bands can recover after a thirty song, three-hour war with heat, Jameson’s, and fans. But Slobberbone was never just “any band.” Despite not ever breaking through in the way that some of their peers like the Drive-By Truckers did, Slobberbone never shorted a live show. You could wander the earth for all your day, searching for the one scorned fan who resents the eight or ten dollars they dropped on a door charge to see Slobberbone, and fail.
Once again The O’s opened and once again they delivered a suitable warm up but it was when Best, Harper, Barr, and Lane took the stage that Dallas’ Barley House lit up. Once again the crowd was treated to a three-hour show. Saturday’s first hour drew heavily from Slobberbone’s finest moment, Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today; a record filled with southern gothic imagery and tales of lives left on the margins. Best once again managed to capture attention with his lyrics. Jess Barr, who also serves as guitarist for the current Best project The Drams, seemed to have more opportunity to shine in the Slobberbone songs, more than once pulling off flawless solos before raising his single finger in self-approval. Fan deemed classics like “Pinball Song”, “Trust Jesus”, and “Bright Eyes Darkened” all were delivered in straightforward style while the people who had waited years to hear them went berserk.
Scott Danbom was once again on hand to lend to the sound, playing keys and electric fiddle. The size of the stage at the Barley House limited him from loitering so when he stepped up to the stage, he delivered without exception. In the second hour of the show, Dallas’ resident chanteuse Jenn Nabb joined Best in a duet version of the Bee Gee’s song “To Love Somebody”. Both cover songs were different from the previous night as the Bob Mould tune was replaced with “Cartoon” by Soul Asylum. The band dipped into their back catalog as the night drew longer and drunker before calling time with Neil Young’s “Big Time”.
The tone on the stage, the quality of the music, and the friendship made it evident that the music world is a lesser place without Slobberbone. But for two nights in Central Texas, the void was filled. When Jess Barr mockingly held his single index finger to the sky after each solo, he was more right than he could ever have known.