LIVE: Kinky Friedman @ The Linda, 10/16/15

October 29th, 2015, 3:00 pm by Greg

Review by Steven Stock

They ain’t makin’ Jewish cowboys like Kinky Friedman anymore. Dressed in black from his hat on down, chomping an unlit cigar, Friedman delighted a near-capacity audience with a performance that veered precariously from shambolic to spellbinding and back again. Like many shows at The Linda, this one was being recorded for WAMC-FM’s “Live at The Linda” series, prompting a bemused Friedman after one too many false starts and detours to wonder how exactly they were going to turn this into a radio show.

Perturbed by some monitor feedback early in the set, Friedman was thrown off his game, or more precisely he switched games altogether, from singer-songwriter to stand-up comedian, an albino Richard Pryor. Words on a page don’t really do full justice to his deadpan delivery and impeccable timing, but here’s a sample aside, borrowed from partner-in-crime Willie Nelson, just to show you what a classy evening it was…

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“If you’re gonna have sex with an animal, the best animal to have sex with is a horse, cuz that way, even if things don’t work out, at least you have a ride home.” Can’t wait to hear that on public radio! Later in the set, during a quickie rendition of “Asshole from El Paso,” it was sheep that found favor, but you can’t really expect consistency from an artist as irascible as Friedman.

Born in Chicago, Friedman grew up near Austin, Texas, son of a college professor. After graduating from UT with a psychology degree, Friedman joined the Peace Corps (what? You thought he’d make a fine Marine?) and began performing off-kilter songs such as “The Ballad of Charles Whitman” and “Homo Erectus.” Back in the States, he bounced around from Kerrville, Texas to Los Angeles to Nashville, where Commander Cody eventually persuaded Vanguard Records to sign Friedman.

His 1973 debut Sold American is mostly a country record, albeit a country record in Shel Silverstein mode, produced by Chuck Glaser and featuring contributions from Nashville heavyweights such as Norman Blake, David Briggs, John Hartford and Billy Swan. Three songs from Sold featured in Friday night’s performance: a heartfelt “Ride ‘Em Jewboy,” the women’s liberation riposte “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed” and the gorgeous “Silver Eagle Express.” The album attracted so much praise that Friedman moved on to bigger labels, ABC for 1974’s Kinky Friedman and then Epic for 1976’s Lasso from El Paso, with a guest slot on Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue sandwiched in-between.

In the ’80s Friedman made an unexpected career change. After a decade subverting the conventions of country music, Kinky infiltrated the mystery novel genre with a similar brand of irreverent humor, starting with “Greenwich Killing Time.” He’s remained a fixture on the cultural landscape, with books, occasional low-key album releases and even a campaign for governor of Texas in 2006. The current tour is in support of his new album, The Loneliest Man I Ever Met.

At The Linda, Friedman’s jokes and his comic capers (“Get Your Biscuits…,” “Asshole from El Paso” and the classic “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews like Jesus Anymore”) were the real crowd-pleasers, but Kinky rushed through the funny songs as if they were debts he had to pay. He seemed far more engaged when displaying his serious side, which the latest record emphasizes. Originals “Lady Yesterday” and the new “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met” found a reflective Friedman facing 70, but the most unexpected surprise of The Linda performance was his strength as an interpreter.

After accompanying himself on guitar for most of the set, Friedman welcomed guitarist/album sideman Joe Cirotti onstage for a lovely rendition of Tom Waits’ “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis.” Although he resorted to a cheat sheet for the lyrics, Friedman’s understated, conversational delivery was perfect as he played the part of a most unreliable narrator – a real tearjerker, yet wryly humorous at the same time. Even better was Friedman’s downright spooky version of Warren Zevon’s unflinching take on mortality, “My Shit’s Fucked Up.”

Opening act Brian Molnar produced the new Friedman album and also serves as road manager on the current tour. Accompanied by Cirotti, he played a brief set of unhyphenated country music, except being from New Jersey he doesn’t lay on much twang. Their guitar playing meshed well and rang out beautifully at The Linda, but couldn’t quite disguise how ordinary Molnar’s lyrics were. Quality without distinctiveness, but a couple of weeks on the road with Kinky might be just the remedy for that!

SECOND OPINIONS:
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union

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

KINKY FRIEDMAN SET LIST
Pretty Boy Floyd (Woody Guthrie)
The Loneliest Man I Ever Met
Ride ‘Em, Jewboy
Get Your Biscuits in the Oven (And Your Buns in the Bed)
Mama’s Hungry Eyes (Merle Haggard)
An Asshole From El Paso (Chinga Chavin)
Silver Eagle Express
They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore
Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis (Tom Waits)
Lady Yesterday
My Shit’s Fucked Up (Warren Zevon)
Pickin’ Time (Johnny Cash)