Hayes Carll traveled all the way from Austin, TX just to play two shows at the Tin Angel listening room in the Old City of Philadelphia. Traveling down the road is nothing new to Carll. He admitted to playing thousands of shows over his 15 year career all over the world.
Besides having his first and last name confused, Carll’s last name is misspelled! And sometimes on stage that is the way he acts. He is tall, kind of disheveled, and always looks like he just got up from a nap. On this night he brought along his regular band’s Dobro player, Travis, to accompany him. The duo played the early show and still seemed to be more than happy to play another 90 minute set for a second room full of folks who were sitting and smiling at them in anticipation.
The room has wonderful acoustics, fine sound, and about 100 seats. It is a great place to see a show. It is the kind of room that lends itself to small acoustic groups which is exactly what Carll was going to do for these shows.
Hayes opened with ‘Chances Are’, a slow waltz, singing “Chances are I took a wrong turn every time I had a turn to take.” The line hints at life on the road – a life Hayes Carll has been living and writing about for the past 15+ years.
Telling stories is as much a part of Carl’s act as the songs he writes and sings. His dry ironic sense of humor is a delight. He tries to walk a fine line, presenting himself as a hard drinkin’ bar band musician on the make and on the prowl, with his other persona of a successful, married, father, and singer-songwriter.
Tunes about towns and places from all over the southwest made up much of the show. This guy has been around and it shows in his music. He turns places he has been into reasons for songs. Every destination is a story from the road.
His second tune, ‘Little Rock,’ allowed Carll to talk about his time there. He spent several years in college in Arkansas observing and writing about what he saw. Other towns that he breezed through this night included ‘Rivertown’; ‘Beaumont’, a reflective tune with some really fine finger picking; and ‘Arkansas Blues’, a somber love song. After the song, perhaps tongue in cheek, Carll told the crowd , “I don’t do very many love songs. I do have a lot of songs about sex.”
He told stories of dives he has played in his younger days. He talked about performing on the Bolivar Peninsula at Crenshaw Beach. About playing cover tunes in the local bars to pay the rent. And about Hurricane Ike which washed away Carll’s home and everything he had.
Early in the set he introduced his 2011 AMA Song of the Year, KMAG YOYO. He explained essentially that it was about a guy who gets into the war, joins the CIA and does LSD, gets sent into space, and comes home suffering from PTSD. This tune rocked and he didn’t have a band. KMAG YOYO stands for ‘Kiss My Ass Goodbye You’re On Your Own.’ I am not sure what road this tune comes from.
Among his stories were tunes of joy, stories about the pleasant side of life on the road. ‘Stomp and Holler’ and ‘I Got a Gig (baby)’ were pure expressions of enjoyment of life and of what you are doing. Even though there was only a guitar and Dobro, you could tell that both of these tunes rock when Carll plays with his full road house band.
It’s kind of interesting to me that when he performed ‘One Bed, Two Girls, Three Bottles of Wine’, he introduced it not so much like it ever happened to him, but rather something of his dreams. Previously I have seen him introduce this tune in the first person making him the joke of the song.
Almost as counterpoint to ‘Three Bottles of Wine,’ is a touching, but still silly song about losing his woman’s attention to their newborn child. During ‘My Baby Took my Baby from Me,’ he sang the chorus, “His itsy bitsy boots and his big fat face.” Every time the line was sung, (and he emphasized the word ‘fat,’ it made the crowd giggle.
Towards the end of the set he played his road anthem, ’Drunken Poet’s Dream.’ This is a kind of ironic tune about the imperfect life. Perhaps one of my favorite all time lyrics is from this song. “You be the sinner and I’ll be the sin.” The whole crowd sang along with the chorus, “I wanna holler, I wanna scream, I’m gonna get some Mescaline.” These are surely the words of someone who has seen many sides of life and is willing to tell about it. I got a kick out of an audience member shouting out, “Do ‘Another Like You’ – Travis can be the girl!” Carll may be from Texas, but the Philadelphia crowd knew who he was.
Hayes Carll makes me think of Jack Kerouac traveling along Route 66. Carll is traveling his own path, telling us about it in his songs as he goes. His miles have yielded many songs. We are all fortunate to have him and his tales from his travels. We were happy that we got to see him at the Tin Angel this night while sharing the experience with friends.
Maybe as a reminder, it may look like fun, but a musician’s life on the road can be difficult. He finished with ‘It’s Hard Out There’. “Talking the shape I’m in, the places I’ve been.” This one really got me. The other Hayes Carll tunes are about his life experiences and observations. The stories are interesting and you can often relate to them in one way or another. ‘It’s Hard Out’ there is different because it’s about all of our lives, not just his. It is hard out there. The song gives a voice to that for all of us.