At an outdoor music festival years ago, Southern Culture on the Skids were in the middle of their set when the guy in front of me said to his friend, “I go to California for six years, I come back, and these guys are still doing the same schtick.” I could understand his skepticism. An outdoor stage in the middle of the day, surrounded by folk fans in lawn chairs, isn’t the best way to see the band.
No, the best place to see Southern Culture on the Skids is in a dark, beer-soaked bar, the smaller the better. Where the stage is small enough to make this tight three-piece band seem like they’re right on top of each other, where the sound ricochets off the back wall and smacks you in the back of the head, where the mere flick of a band member’s wrist can send a piece of fried chicken all the way to the back of the crowd.
That’s the kind of show captured on Doublewide and Live, which finds the group returning to Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Local 506, a small club that’s acted as a home to the band since their humble beginnings in the early ‘90s. Just from the sound of the show, you can tell it’s a Southern Culture on the Skids club: blasts of guitar ringing off the walls and cymbals, and hollerin’ patrons let you know it was a loud, raucous show. In other words, this thing’s recorded right, reveling in its warts-and-all immediacy.
It also underscores the fact that, for all the fun to be found on their studio discs, live is really the way to see Southern Culture on the Skids. Bassist Mary Huff comes across as a bit of a secret weapon when she takes the mic, and her road-honed rapport with drummer Dave Hartman is a joy to hear. It also becomes apparent that Rick Miller, in addition to being a natural frontman, is a woefully underappreciated guitarist. Link Wray and Dick Dale are the most obvious reference points, but any guitarist who ever used a guitar to channel some carnal boogie through an amp also counts as an influence. Instrumental workouts like “The Wet Spot” and “Meximelt” (with its note-perfect snatch of Dale’s “Miserlou”) are pure, pedal-to-the-floor showing off, but pretty much every song on Doublewide and Live shows that behind the trailer park “schtick” is one talented band whose serious love of all things trash, surf, rockabilly, boogie, swampy, and saucy comes across in songs that are as tightly packed as a cooler chock-full of beer.
“Mojo Box”, “Whole Lotta Things”, “Liquored Up”, “Cheap Motels”, “Dirt Track Date”—those songs and a dozen more in the Southern Culture on the Skids catalog would make any band playing off of white trash culture—heck, any self-respecting rock band—proud and Doublewide and Live does them all justice.
If there’s one criticism of Doublewide and Live, it’s the same one that shadows any live set or greatest hits package: the songs that aren’t there. For this listener’s money, it’s a shame not to get Southern Culture on the Skids classics like “Firefly”, “Greenback Fly”, “Camel Walk”, “Smiley Yeah Yeah Yeah”, or covers like “House of Bamboo”, “Hittin’ on Nothing”, or “Daddy Was a Preacher But Mama Was a Go-Go Girl”. I guess it’s OK for “Eight Piece Box” to be missing, though, since you really need to be ducking a fried chicken leg to best appreciate its twangy, tangy glory.
After putting that list together, though, it becomes apparent that Doublewide and Live misses a good bit of the Southern Culture on the Skids experience. There is a deluxe edition with three extra songs, and apparently preordering that edition gets you three more bonus songs—so maybe that takes care of the problem if you’re a big fan. So in the end, Doublewide and Live is a top-notch live recording that leaves you a little hungry—kind of like those tipsy munchies you have after a Southern Culture on the Skids show that send you straight to the nearest Waffle House.