Review – Hayes Carll at the Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver, May 21 2011
– by Jacqueline Ronson
Hayes Carll’s latest album, KMAG YOYO (and other American stories) features a picture of the musician in an American flag sweater. But Texas-born Carll is not exactly a flag-waver. He exists in the nitty-gritty, booze-soaked underbelly of Americana. His rough-around-the-edges persona has earned him comparisons to the likes of Townes Van Zandt and, last night at the Biltmore Cabaret, it also earned him an audience that refused to leave until he came out to play a second encore.
The Vancouver indie-rock club actually plays the part of an old-time country saloon quite well. The red-velvet booths and the dusty chandeliers and hunting trophies evoke the spirit of the Wild West. It’s easy to miss these details on the typical hipster-infested night.
Along with his band, The Poor Choices, Carll performed mostly danceable rock tunes infused with a country twang. The group looked good. They sounded good, too. Near the stage, very young, very pretty and very intoxicated fans bumped up against each other, only inches from the musicians, while singing along and miming the lyrics. It was not the crowd you might expect from a, in Carll’s words, “folk-rock-Americana-indie-alternative-country act”, but then again, he’s is full of surprises.
At the heart of Carll’s allure is his talent as a storyteller, both through his songs and on-stage banter. Naturally, there was discussion of the impending Rapture. Carll proclaimed that he’s pretty sure he’s going up, despite the controversial lyrics of his acclaimed song, “She Left Me for Jesus”.
For “Another Like You”, a duet with singer Cary Ann Hearst on his album, Carll took on both roles. He called the song, in which a Democrat and a Republican meet at a bar and overcome their differences through the power of sexual attraction and booze, “a modern-day Romeo and Juliet”. Facing different sides of the audience to indicate shifts in character, Carll emphasized the absurdity of this dual role, which added to the comedic effect.
The singer introduced a song he said was based on a fantasy, but one which he hoped might come true if he sang about it enough times. So far, he claimed, “One Bed, Two Girls, Three Bottles of Wine” continues to live in his imagination and not in his memory.
Carll appeals to the lusty, alcoholic, degenerate parts of ourselves that cry out to be expressed on occasion. Moreover, he seems like a genuinely interesting guy who could tell stories for a lifetime, or at least as long as the beer keeps flowing. He is at the same time enormously talented and self-effacing. But perhaps most importantly, he puts on a really fun show.