LIVE: Kinky Friedman’s Bi-Polar Express Tour @ The Linda, 6/18/12

Kinky Freidman

Kinky Friedman


Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

The handshake was firm, accompanied by a look in your eye that was long and sincere – both practiced moves of a seasoned politician, and you can’t get more seasoned than when you’re mixing it up into the ideological mosh pit that is the state of Texas. Happily, I wasn’t shaking hands with the guy who had the worst performance and the best hair (Sorry, Mitt) in this year’s Republican primary; I was shaking hands with (in the words of emcee Graeme McKenna) “the one, the only… the TRULY ORIGINAL… Kinky Friedman!”

Instead of doing the living-legend thing and hiding in the green room until showtime, Friedman was literally right next to the entrance to the performance space, resplendent in all-black from his cowboy hat to his cowboy boots, with a not-quite-pencil-thin mustache and a gleam in his eye that communicated both intelligence and a divine sense of mischief. The man definitely knows how to work a room, and that’s what he was doing when he wasn’t signing autographs at a stage-side merch table filled with what opening act Brian Molnar called “the finest books you’ve ever read… and if you haven’t read them, they WILL BE the finest books you’ve ever read!”

Post continues below...
Advertisement

Despite the black cowboy shirt that he must have bought where Friedman shops (Molnar’s had playing cards on it, while Friedman’s sported twin skulls), Molnar is a New Jersey native. Then again, the Kinkster was born in Chicago, so what does place of origin have to do with anything? The full house at the Linda only got three songs out of Molnar, but the taste we got was pretty darn savory, as Molnar played three solo-acoustic originals that had as much of Arlo Guthrie in them as they had Justin Townes Earle. Molnar’s short set was preceded by half an hour of acoustic instrumental goodness from our own Tequila Mockingbirds. Friedman watched the ‘birds’ set from the darkness while leaning against the wall to the right of the stage, an unlit cigar in his mouth. (“I smoke when America lets me,” he told us later.)

So: Songwriter, mystery writer, politician, entrepreneur… What did Friedman have in store for us on this cool Monday evening: Concert? Literary reading? Political discourse? An infomercial for the various products on his self-titled web site? As it turns out, we got a little of all four – sort of like Spaulding Gray on Corona, only with better music and a lot less depressing! Actually, the opening lyric (“Time to resign from the human race…”) from the opening number “Before All Hell Breaks Loose” was roughly in line with some of Gray’s late-career monologues. However, I’m not sure Gray would have been down with the toast Kinky made after the song: “May the best of our past be the worst of our future!”

While that wasn’t the slogan of Friedman’s 2006 campaign for Governor of Texas, he could have done a lot worse: One of two independent candidates in the race, he finished fourth in a six-person field with 12 percent of the vote. Mind you, he’s philosophical about his loss (“I consider myself the governor of the heart of Texas…”) – philosophical with a side of Chicago. According to Friedman, his Will stipulates that “When I die, I want to be cremated and have my ashes thrown in Rick Perry’s hair!”

Friedman’s voice doesn’t have a lot of range, but there’s not a lot of wear-and-tear on his 67-year-old vocal chords. Friedman’s music was never about the voice, anyway – it was always about the words. Some of the words we heard were his, like “The Ballad of Charles Whitman” and “Nashville Casualty and Life”; some of the words came from others, like Tom Paxton’s “Ramblin’ Boy” and the Irish rebel song “The Ballad of Kevin Barry.” Some of the words hurt you to your soul, like Friedman’s haunting tale of the Holocaust “Ride ‘Em, Jewboy”; others were just flat-out silly, like the scatological “Ol’ Man Lucas.” (The story Friedman told about how Eric Clapton came to play dobro on the original recording of “Lucas” was both priceless and side-splitting.)

Then there was “Waitret, Please, Waitret” and the song that won Friedman the National Organization for Women’s 1973 Male Chauvinist of the Year Award (“An award I’m still very proud of,” he drily informed us), “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed.” Kinky Friedman is many things, but politically correct isn’t one of them, and there are times when his satire makes Randy Newman seem tame. Some of the dirtier jokes Friedman dropped on us during his 75-minute set wouldn’t have helped his standing with NOW, either. Then again, he also set aside 10-15 minutes of his set for a great musical cameo from songwriter/Bi-Polar Express “team physician” Amy Love. Accompanied only by a ukulele, Love’s elegant covers of Peter & Gordon’s “A World Without Love” and Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons” were absolutely outstanding, but it was her original “Pieces” that hit the longest home run. If we could get Love and Molnar back to Greater Nippertown for an extended look, that’d be a beautiful thing.

The song that hit the home run for Kinky fans was, of course, the set-closing instant classic “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews like Jesus Any More.” Friedman made the last verse a sing-along, and he proved to us all that smoking cigars hasn’t hindered his lung power. But for me, the best moment came when Friedman read a chapter from his 2009 work “Heroes of a Texas Childhood.” A non-fiction effort inspired by advice from syndicated radio host Jim Hightower (“If you want to tell people who you are, tell ‘em who your heroes are!”), the book contains essays on Texas icons like Barbara Jordan, Audie Murphy, Molly Ivins and Sam Houston. The chapter we got was about the Kinkster’s father, Tom Friedman – a navigator on a B-24 in World War II who went on to be a Professor of Educational Psychology, while his wife Dottie became the first speech therapist in the Texas public-school system. The chapter was both inspiring and heartfelt, and as Friedman read it in his dry Texas twang, you saw that the fruit didn’t fall far from the Tree of Knowledge.

With all the pies he’s got fingers in, Kinky Friedman is something you don’t always associate with Texas — a true renaissance man. But he’s also a troubadour in the classic sense: A singer, a storyteller, a comedian and (most importantly) a truth-teller. In this age of style over substance and product over content, we’re never going to get anyone remotely like this man. He needs to be celebrated, and that’s what we did at The Linda the other night.

SECOND OPINIONS:
Paul Rapp’s review at Metroland

NOTE: Kinky Friedman’s Bi-Polar Express tour will also be making a stop at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock at 9pm on Saturday (June 23). Mikhail Horowitz & Gilles Malkine open the show. Tix are $30.

Brian Molnar

Brian Molnar

Tequila Mockingbirds

Tequila Mockingbirds

Tags: , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Cartoonist John CaldwellHolly & EvanCaffe LenaAdvertise on Nippertown!Leave Regular Radio BehindAlbany PoetsArtist Charles HaymesBerkshire On StageThe LindaHudson SoundsKeep Albany BoringAnimalKind