the other sold out show

james mcmurtry. photo by craig seth.

james mcmurtry. photo by craig seth.

Just a quick word about that “other” sold out show heading our way on Thursday.

While Taylor Swift plays to the jubilant, youthful masses with a Rupp Arena concert that was a near instantaneous sellout, James McMurtry will perform to a more modestly sized capacity crowd at Natasha’s Bistro.

Needless to say, Swift and McMurtry could not be more dissimilar. Swift is all cheery vibes, pop hooks and big league production – and that’s fine. Arena rock thrives on those credentials. McMcMurtry, on the other hand, can best be categorized as “the real deal” – a songwriter with a dark social depth to his songs, a storyteller that delves into the kinds of rural realities contemporary country forever shuns.

Encapsulating the blunt, literary drive of McMurtry’s new CD/DVD set Live in Europe are two older songs that are reinvented on the DVD performance from the Paradiso in Amsterdam.

The first comes in the form of 10 savage minutes that make up Choctaw Bingo, a scrapbook of backwoods horror stories (“he cooks that crystal meth cause his ‘shine don’t sell”) set to a unrelenting shuffle by McMurtry’s jittery guitar work and the Doors-like keyboard strolls of founding Faces member Ian McLagan.

The second is an equally aggressive reading of We Can’t Make It Here, a saga of social and economic downturn and the legions of youths it leaves “high on Jesus or hooked on dope.”

What’s even wilder is that these two songs predate McMutry’s last studio record, 2008’s extraordinary Just Us Kids (whose songs are more generously displayed on the CD portion of Live in Europe). In short, McMurtry, for all his dry, sly stoicism, is still making the finest, most frightening music of his career.

But, alas, his Thursday show at Natasha’s with opener Johnny Burke is sold out. McMurtry will, however, perform for free tonight at Louisville’s Waterfront Park as part of the Kentucky Derby Festival. Showtime will be 7 p.m. Will Hoge will open.

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