The Cow Haus, Tallahassee, FL • June 12, 2001
Okay, so, the night before it fucking PISSES down rain all day and long into the small hours; estimated rainfall was around eight inches. So it pisses down rain, and my bathroom flooded, and one kid died, and people got trapped in their cars for hours, and I was throwing tree frogs out my front door, and the NEXT DAY Bill Callahan just HAPPENS to roll into town? Has anyone ever seen Something Wicked This Way Comes? Have you seen it, Mr. Tree Frog?
Apocalyptic omens aside, Smog did indeed grace our fair city with their ghostly presence for their only Florida performance. Yeah, we got it – fuck you, Orlando. And hey, listen, it was too perfect when they started their set almost exactly at midnight. Bill Callahan standing lonely at one corner of the stage, an almost interminable stretch of emptiness and then the rest of the band (drummer, violin player, second guitar player) crouched catlike into the other corner. Stage action was pretty static; the backing players never even moved, Bill stepped back and forward every so often and sometimes he bent his knees and sang up into the microphone just like Keith Richards. And the physical way he plays guitar reminds me so much of Joy Division-era Bernard Sumner. Dear god, he has that skinny-boy-dressed-in-black look down, as well.
Smog drawled and tossed off songs about convicts, jeans jackets, widows, ex-lovers, dark intentions, bruised spirits, and, um, ex-lovers. They even played an old Kicking a Couple Around gem, “I Break Horses.” After each song, a few more indie kid revelers moved farther back away from the stage towards the bar. And I just slid closer in. Who can blame them, though? How much fun is sinister emotional catharsis when you’re clutching a cheap beer and trying to talk to a girlie/guylie?
Lemme tell you, the band was in crackerjack form. Songs were delivered in droning, monochromatic style, with one lead riff repeated ad infinitum as Callahan carefully slid words over his tongue, never once cracking his defensive shell. The violin saws back and forth, guitars double over and back over one another, and the drummer (I believe it’s Mr. Jim White of The Dirty Three) keeps far in the background with a primitive backbeat. But that sort of thing lets you know that he’s a real genius, ‘cuz he has restraint. Oh Jesus, look at that lineup: two guitars, violin, spare drums, and a laconic singsong vocalist• I got to see the new Velvet Underground! Callahan and his companions have managed another canny image and aesthetic change; with the full-band backing, he is more assured in his role, eager to explore the possibilities of locking into a solid groove and exploring all of the possibilities therein. Drone rock of the highest order, then, and a sadistic wordsmith to boot. Who needs Lou Reed, who needs any of them? Tonight we’ve got Smog, and Smog cuts a pretty fucking dashing and adventurous figure.◼