Golden Smog breathes life into music
Paradise Club, Boston, April 15, 1996
By Jeffrey B. Remz
BOSTON - Take a few name pedigree players - Danny Murphy of Soul Asylum, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, and Gary Louris and Marc Pearlman of the late Jayhawks, throw them together, and you get Golden Smog.
But the band, also including Kraig Johnson of Run Westy Run on guitar/vocals and Noah Levy of The Honeydogs on drums, are not just a rag tag band of players seeking to throw some rootsy, country charm your way.
Golden Smog, gaining acclaim on the alternative country circuit, proved at a crowded Paradise Club Monday that they are able to meld their collective talents for an enjoyable evening amidst a loose atmosphere on stage. In listening to the band's recent "Down by the Old Mainstream," the listener is left feeling uncertain whether this is a serious effort or just a bunch of musicians goofing in the comforts of a studio.
But that thinking was proven wrong from the get go with "Won't Be Coming Home." The song - more of a rocker than country - kicked harder than the CD as did most of the songs played during the 90-minute set.
This was a band strong on diversity. First of all, Tweedy, Louris, Murphy, and Johnson all were centerstage during the evening with Louris' high-pitched voice differing little from The Jayhawks days, a particular delight.
Tweedy, formerly a co-leader of the trailblazing group Uncle Tupelo, had an easy-going style throughout. He often grabbed the microphone and moved about the stage as the lounge singer he is not.
Then it was over to Johnson for his turn on vocals on "Yesterday Cried." And it was here that what would be one of the vocal highlights of the night became apparent. Three of the Smogs lent their voices on backing vocals, giving more energy to the songs.
The band's cover tunes proved to be among the evening's highlights. Once Louris figured out what instrument he needed, the band launched into Rosanne Cash's "Seven Year Ache," a song Golden Smog played on radio the day before with Cash herself there. Louris acquitted himself well on the high notes.
And in a partial punky vein, other covers included "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," the Nick Lowe song made famous by Elvis Costello, and "Do Anything You Wanna Do," a punk anthem courtesy of England's Eddie & The Hot Rods.
For the country fans present, Neil Young's "Powerderfinger" and a version of Roger Miller's "Reincarnation" closed the show.
Musically, a lot of acoustic guitar was heard, although these guys certainly could rock also. An added touch was fiddler Jessey Greene of the opening band, the Geraldine Fibbers. The evening was without its share of humorous moments. Near the very end, Louris thought the last song was history and started waving his hands, only to be clued in, that he indeed was in a fog.
A ragged, but right feel existed throughout. As Tweedy said in a post-show interview, the intent was to have fun onstage. In that, Golden Smog clearly succeeded.
Yes, a few missteps occurred, but all in a good night's fun. After all, this wasn't a play-by-the-set list kind of night.
Whether a group of boys out to have fun or present music most of the time in a more serious vein, Golden Smog was able to put their pasts aside and breathe life into their own brand of country.
The Geraldine Fibbers opened in a far too long hour-long set. The band, featuring an upright bass, more than overstayed its welcome with a churning guitar sound and undistinguished vocals.