I was excited to see Cory Branan for a second time in one week and was hoping that it would be a bigger crowd this time since it was at Rough Trade in Williamsburg. I got there just as the doors opened and this time I brought a magazine. I sat just outside the doors of the club, next to the café, and watched as people trickled in. Rough Trade is an interesting club because it’s actually a record store. You can walk around the store while you wait for the doors of the club to open.
Right on time, Brett Saxon came out to a very small crowd. More people came in as he was playing but there was still more space than people. His song choice seemed a bit more upbeat (musically if not lyrically) than at Garcia’s – maybe because when he spoke to the crowd there was more of a response than there had been at Garcia’s. There were whoops and big applause after each song. He even mentioned that he was a bit freaked out by how quiet the crowd was in Port Chester. It felt like there were more dynamics in his guitar playing. I still find it difficult to get past his mullet and 70s porn ‘stache though.
Jared Hart (The Scandals) was just as good as he’d been the other night. He was dressed similarly and I think his set was pretty much the same. He was wearing his pants down past his underwear (you could see when bent over) and I don’t know if he was dressed that way the other night but, I’m sorry, it’s something I judge. It’s a style that I just don’t get especially on adult men. He had been out drinking with friends before the show (he said he was getting his sea legs back after happy hour in Brooklyn) and I was hoping that he’d lost a bet. He explained that even though these friends live only 14 miles away he rarely sees them. They were still drinking in the bar up the street when his set started but they made it into the club when he was on stage playing “Lucky Sevens” and coincidentally had dedicated it to them. He gave them a shout-out and they responded in kind. Hart also told stories about showing Cory around Bayonne. “Deacon Ain’t Dead” had a false stop and he smiled with a “gotcha” when we applauded at the wrong spot. Some of the songs (both solo and Scandals’ songs) that I liked were “Allnighters,” “The Run Around,” “Lucky Sevens,” “The Leo,” “Deacon Ain’t Dead,” “The Guillotine,” and “Heads or Tails.” There were more people in the crowd and many of them were familiar with his music. For “Heads or Tails” and the line “I’ve been hanging in all the wrong places/I’ve been looking at all the wrong faces,” Hart looked over to his friends and was laughing. He sang the last chorus powerfully off-mic. It was another great performance by Hart.
Before Hart’s set there was reggae over the sound system. Now it was jazz and funk. I saw the sound guy looking for Cory – maybe he was outside smoking a cigarette? But soon Cory Branan was on stage and the floor was full but not crowded. He started with “Jolene” on his acoustic guitar, telling basically the same story he’d told the other night. A reviewer had compared Memphis artists like Cory, Lucero, and Pawtucket and Cory said they owned the only records worth having – 1984, Purple Rain, and Thriller. The bands were called punk, country, and emo – whatever that is. There was a girl dancing by herself near the stage while all the cool people dressed in black just sat in the back. He never met her, which helps the relationship and he decided her name had to be Jolene. He switched to an electric for “Tall Green Grass” and he switched back and forth between the two throughout the night. As I’ve said many times, I just love Cory’s guitar playing. He’s a master. He strums and drums, he ferociously plucks, and he plays melody and rhythm together. He can play faster than any human but he can also play soft and sweetly. And he does the same things with his voice – coarse, sweet, loud, soft.
Cory explained he was born in a Memphis hospital because there were no hospitals in the Mississippi town where he’s from. He is proud to be from Mississippi as long as he doesn’t read the headlines. But all the music is from there but there’s a bad reason for that. He used all the pedals for his solo on “Walls, MS” – “I don’t get out much.” Cory said he’d been out on the road since March so there would not be a lot of witty banter. He apologized for being tired and said he’d pounded down two Red Bulls. If he was tired, it was barely noticeable. His playing did not suffer. Sometimes his voice did a little.
When he played the first song off the new album, he told us that the record was mostly about death so he’d written “I Only Know” for some balance. Dave Hause and Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!) performed on that song on the album. Cory said he got a lot of hate mail for “Another Nightmare in America” (written from the point of view of a racist cop) and someone told him that “he didn’t get no hate mail because no one’s gonna lick a stamp in 2017.” “The Only You” exists for just the first four lines but “please stay for the other verses and chorus.” It’s one of my favorite songs of his and I had to ask two of the people in front of me to stop talking during the song. It’s one of Cory’s quieter songs and the group of people in front of me professed love for Cory but talked through most of his set. For “Crush,” Cory said he’d been told that people would leave this song on answering machines. “Kids, if you don’t know what an answering machine is, it’s a tweet that you can throw.”
“The Vow” is a beautiful tribute to his father. “I thought the silent stoic father was a Southern thing but it’s not.” Cory thoughtfully chooses covers and this night it was Gillian Welch’s beautiful “Good Til Now” and Townes Van Zandt’s perfect “Loretta.”
While he was talking to the audience, I discovered that Cory has moved again – this time from Nashville back to Memphis. He asked for requests and for the last three songs he said the third was going to be his last song. “Skateland South” went out to Ginger (“probably also dead”). The Skateland South had a long hallway, there was no air-conditioning, and there were shitty pictures of rock stars painted on the walls so there was melting Jimi Hendrix and melting Buddy Holly, etc. When he did the “heys” off-mic, he started coughing and blaming his smoking. He ended with “A Girl Named GO” and again played it with the clave (Bo Diddly) beat and totally changed the melody. He soloed and let the looped guitars play and faded out using the amp. Cory said, “I don’t know” and walked off stage.
I did speak to him at the merch table. Just an acknowledgement of how much I’d enjoyed the show.
You Got Through
Tall Green Grass
I Only Know
Another Nightmare in America
The Only You
Good Til Now (Gillian Welch cover)
Loretta (Townes Van Zandt cover)
Hell-bent and Heart-first
Prettiest Waitress in Memphis
A Girl Named GO
By Carene Lydia Lopez