Review by Fred Rudofsky
The Ale House was packed with music fans of all ages; in fact, the staff began moving tables out as soon as folks had finished their meals, and brought in chairs for as many as possible. The hardiest stood in the back by the windows. This was no ordinary Tuesday night in Troy: Billy Joe Shaver, legendary Texas singer-songwriter, was in the house, ready to play at 8pm sharp.
For those who really know their country music, Billy Joe Shaver belongs in the pantheon with Johnny, Willie, Waylon, Kris, Merle and Guy. (If you don’t know who those legends are, please seek immediate help). Humble to the core, Shaver would likely shrug off such praise, but there is no doubt he has faith in his songs, he revealed from the start of one of the best shows this reviewer has ever attended. The full spectrum of the human condition came through in over two hours of music. This was the real deal.
Wearing a cowboy hat with a feather, denim shirt and jeans and boots, he looked like he’d arrived direct from a Texas ranch. Backed by a talented band – Jeremy Lynn Woodward on guitars, Matt Davis on bass and Jason McKenzie on drums and percussion – Shaver told a funny whorehouse story about his reckless youth, counted off the number and kicked the doors down with the swaggering “Heart of Texas.” His rapport with the sold-out audience was as natural as breathing from then on; it felt like “Austin City Limits” was being broadcast live from the coziest tavern on Earth.
Many songs were punctuated and accentuated with a simple facial gesture, a doff of his hat, a humorous joke or anecdote, or a fist punching the air with an intensity of a young man.
The set of over 25 songs ranged from early compositions that have become standards (“Georgia on a Fast Train,” “Honky Tonk Heroes,” “Black Rose” and “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal”) to a slew of recent classics, for lack of better term. “That’s What She Said Last Night” took double entendres to new levels, and Shaver sold each one with a glint in his eye and a knowing growl in his soulful voice. “The Git Go” offered a sobering critique of global violence (“war is the beast that makes every mother cry”) and politicians (“too busy working on their next term”) that sounded like Dante’s “Inferno” set to three chords. “When the Fallen Angels Fly” was a beautiful meditation on hope for the lost, set to the fine Spanish-style guitar of Woodward.
The loss of his lone son, best friend and bandmate, virtuoso guitarist Eddy Shaver, to a heroin overdose a dozen years ago, still weighs heavy. Shaver shared the story of his son’s demise at age 38 with tears in his eyes, imploring the audience to be tenacious if any of their children ever get involved with hard drugs. His spoken-word poem, “Star in My Heart,” did not leave a dry eye in the house. “I love you, Eddy,” he exclaimed at its conclusion, looking up briefly before leading the band through a cathartic “Live
Forever,” an ode to faith that he co-wrote and recorded with his son in 1993 for their breakthrough album Tramp on Your Street.
The range of songs was remarkable in tone and content. Recalling the hedonism of the 1960s, “When the Word Was Thunderbird” roared like a Cadillac through the night, powered by some truly astounding percussion by
McKenzie, who even played congas with his bare feet during an extended solo, while Shaver slipped off stage to get a Red Bull. “Love Is So Sweet” brimmed with joy, celebrating romance with the fervor of a tent revival. Shaver shared the story of the tough-as-nails grandmother who had raised him in “Honey Bee,” paid tribute to old friend Waylon Jennings on a song they’d co-written (“You Asked Me To”) and celebrated his love of the nation and all its hard-working people in “Good Ol’ USA.” If there had been floor space in the venue, there is no doubt that every couple in the room would have been waltzing to the tender “I Couldn’t Be without You,” a song that ought to be played at every wedding.
The encores were as intense, raucous and life-affirming as they get. Shaver had the Holy Spirit in him, urging the audience never to forget the power of perseverance in “Try and Try Again” and testifying to the deep faith that has served him through unimaginable pain and loss (“You Just Can’t Beat Jesus Christ”). He called everybody in the room his friends, gave a blessing of gratitude, and radiated a smile as big as the stage. He left the bandstand to a deafening ovation, and yet the night was not over. For over an hour, Billy Joe Shaver signed autographs with his two-and-a-half fingered right hand (early saw mill accident), posed for pictures and even traded stories about the early 1970s with John Tichy, a priceless exchange to overhear. Billy Joe Shaver laughed when asked by several fans just how soon till he would be back in our area. “I hope very soon!” he grinned, moved by all the love he had received at the Ale House.
Don Wilcock’s review at Nippertown
BILLY JOE SHAVER SET LIST
Heart of Texas
Georgia on a Fast Train
Honky Tonk Heroes
That’s What She Said Last Night
Wacko from Waco
The Git Go
I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal
When the Fallen Angels Fly
Star in My Heart
When the Word Was Thunderbird
Love Is So Sweet
Ride Me Down Easy
You Wouldn’t Know Love (If You Fell in It)
You Asked Me To
Old Five and Dimers
A Woman Is the Wonder of the World
I Couldn’t Be Without You
Good News Blues
The Good Ol’ USA
Tramp on Your Street
Try and Try Again
You Just Can’t Beat Jesus Christ
NOTE: Those seeking an introduction to Billy Joe Shaver’s music should seek out Unshaven: Shaver Live at Smith’s Olde Bar (1996), The Earth Rolls On (2001) and his recent live CD/DVD Live at Billy Bob’s Texas.