Cory Branan tweeted about a show in New Haven, so I knew he either just played NYC or was about to. Turned out he was going to play Opry City Stage, a Times Square theme restaurant. As a New Yorker, I avoid Times Square themed restaurants. Only Cory could make me go inside. The first floor is an Opry store with t-shirts, etc. Second floor is the large stage, where I guess bands play all day as if you’re walking in downtown Nashville. Third floor is the balcony of the second floor. And fourth floor is The Studio, where the name acts perform. It’s a medium-sized room with great sound and sightlines. All through the restaurant are country music photos and memorabilia. Also life sized cutouts of some country artists so that you can take your photo with them.
I sat at the front of the second row of tables and ordered a hibiscus margarita. During the show, someone gave Cory a drink and he asked if it was a Times Square pour or a Memphis pour. My drink was definitely a Times Square pour. And it was too sweet – the color only added to the effect that I was drinking Kool-Aid or Hawaiian Punch. I ordered the gumbo (they have a limited menu in the Studio) with pork and beans on the side. Neither filling but better than I expected from a theme restaurant. Peter and I ended up going to dinner after the show because I was still hungry.
Cory came out at exactly 8pm and told us he was going to play some new songs and then he would take requests. The first six songs were new songs and then he threw in another one later in the set. The new songs have the well thought out and sometimes twisted lyrics of his old songs. “Son of Mine” (all the titles of the new songs are taken from a previous setlist on setlist.fm – I don’t know if they are the final titles) was written for his 4yo son. Cory said his son does not need to hear the song yet – he already has Cory’s dark frame of mind. He always wanted to write a late 70s Glen Campbell type song and did not because he does not have the voice for it. But he wrote “Gatlinburg” and he thinks he nailed it. When he asked if anyone had been to Gatlinburg, he was surprised by the number of yeses because we were in the middle of Times Square. Apparently Gatlinburg is famous for moonshine and fudge. He sang a divorce song that he hoped would never come true. Another new song was about his brother, who is kind of a fuck-up.
Someone called out for “A Girl Named GO” and he said if he did play it, it would have to be the last song because it is hell on his guitar. The guitar was a gift from Jason Isbell. Cory has known Amanda Shires for years and has toured with her and that is how he met Jason. United dropped Cory’s guitar 30,000 feet and Amanda was going to give him one of her guitars, which Jason protested. If she was giving away that beautiful guitar it would go to him. So Jason gave Cory one of his (expensive) guitars, which Cory has already gouged. Jason told him – “I’ve seen you play” – so he knew what he was doing.
Later he mentioned that the Music Modernization Act had passed. (Actually, it had just passed the Senate. It passed the House this week.) I forget the segue but he said that Lucero is the Kevin Bacon of the South because all the southern musicians are somehow connected through them. When someone called out for “Muhammed Ali,” he said he had not played the song in a while but he did play it in Indiana recently. Later he had congratulated Rachel Maddow on Twitter for something and then his phone blew up because Maddow said she was listening to “Muhammed Ali” when she got the tweet from Cory. He had also heard that on Steve Earle’s radio show, Maddow had played a few of Cory’s songs. By this time I was thinking that Cory name drops a lot. This has not been the first instance where he names bands he is friends with and tells stories about them. His friends, The Gaslight Anthem, told him a story about playing somewhere and Bruce Springsteen was there and after the show he has got two garbage bags and they ask what he is doing and (imitating Springsteen) he says, “Just trying to help.” So even his name drops have name drops.
He said he tried to write a song with a Jelly Roll piano sound and he then imitated both the old and Vegas Elvis. Cory still shreds the guitar and plays it percussively (including the strings). He plays fast and now he has guitar effects. He still walks back from the mic and then towards it. He is dangerous on stage and it is fun to watch.
“Tame” is a song he wrote for his wife 10 years before he met her. They were married in a cotton field in Mississippi. She walked down the aisle to “Thunder Road,” and you might think that might not be appropriate especially because of the lyric “she ain’t a beauty but, hey she’s alright.” But that is precisely why it was used. He still changes the age in “The Prettiest Waitress in Memphis” although he has not changed to much older.
Cory kept exclaiming that he felt like he was playing daytime. There was a big window by the bar and Times Square is very bright. No matter how dark it gets, Times Square is like daylight. He asked if the lights ever get shut off and we told him they did not. He was surprised to find out the bars are open until 4am.
On the wall opposite the stage is a neon Bluebird Café sign that is animated. The one in Nashville is not, so that bluebird does not fly. But the flying bluebird never saw Guy Clark play.
There was no encore but, after his cigarette, Cory was behind the table selling merch. I stopped to talk to him for a bit and thanked him for the show. I mentioned not knowing this place existed and he said it has been in NYC since December, so almost a year. I told him how, as a native New Yorker, I felt about theme restaurants and then he started joking about how it would be like seeing him at Dave & Busters in another city.
One Happy New Year
Picked the Pocket of God
Son of Mine
That Look I Lost
Of Two Minds
Tall Green Grass
Crossing Your Burning Bridge
The Prettiest Waitress in Memphis
The No-Hit Wonder
By Carene Lydia Lopez