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David Allen Coe lives up to outlaw image

The Coach House, San Juan Capistrano, Cal., April 16, 2002

By Dan MacIntosh

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, CA - David Allen Coe hit the stage with his long braided hair flowing and his tattooed arms proudly showing. His electric guitar sported a confederate flag design, and his beer belly hung out of a beige vest and over the body of his v-neck axe. The music was just as loud and Southern as was Coe's physical appearance, as he led his four-piece band through a rocking "Son Of The South" to begin this75-minute long tour through one wild man's undeniably wild life.

When Hank Williams, Jr. recently sang about how country artists aren't allowed to use the 'F' word in songs, David Allen Coe's name obviously must have temporarily escaped him, since this singer/songwriter's show was littered with that particular expletive. But such badass behavior was a primary drawing card for this beer guzzling, Harley driving crowd of ruffians. When he spat out the words to "If That Ain't Country," his self-proclamation of musical authenticity, he sounded like a redneck choir master, leading the Rebel First Baptist Church.

Coe sang with one of those headset microphones that Garth Brooks uses for some unknown reason. Brooks and the like need this flexibility, because they move around a lot on stage. But since Coe is a relatively stationary performer, it was a tool of no use to him. Worse still, it was a poor microphone that badly distorted his vocals.

His band looked like the story of two musical generations: The balding lead guitarist on his right appeared to be straight out of the accounting department, while the guitarist (his son, Paul), the bearded bass player and the shaved-headed drummer on his right, fit right in with the nu-metal crowd. Then, smack dab in the middle, stood Coe, who - while obviously advanced in years - still insists upon dressing like a teenager.

But this circus-like exterior has also birthed a treasure chest of song gems. Coe narrates his show like a storyteller by pre-announcing who he wrote each particular song for, and when he wrote them. Along the way, he rattled off names like George Jones, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. He also sang "Would You Lay With Me," which became a controversial hit for a 13-year-old Tanya Tucker and "Take This Job And Shove It," which was Johnny Paycheck's biggest song. He even played a brief punk version of "Take This Job And Shove It," just to demonstrate how the Dead Kennedys tailored his workingman's anthem to suit their purposes.

When he wasn't giving a grand tour of his songwriting successes, his band stood around and watched as Coe accompanied himself on electric guitar for a few autobiographical ballads. These touching songs told of his hard life growing up, the plight of his children and (of course) his reputation as an outlaw singer. When he sang about how all his friends are dying - with the stinging reality of Waylon Jennings' recent death still fresh on the mind - it was a sobering reminder of how country music's once young and rebellious outlaw contingent will not be with us too much longer.

You're left with the distinct impression that David Allen Coe won't be going down quietly. He's still living up to his outlaw image, even after all these years. And while he came off like a garish flash of white trash on stage tonight, his exemplary songwriting eventually overcame his visual tackiness, which made for memorable night of stellar songs.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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