Even before Whitey Morgan and the 78's took the stage Wednesday night, you could tell it was going to be an atypical night at the Bartlett just by scanning the crowd. Mohawked fans mingled with unironic cowboy hats, and some country-loving fans brought their pre-adolescent kids along for the show at a place more known for indie-rock and modern folk than honky-tonk tunes.
Then again, almost everything about Whitey Morgan
's sound in 2015 is atypical, too. While arenas across the U.S. are selling out shows by atrocious "bro-country" clowns and pop stars in country clothing, Morgan is delivering real-deal twang with edge that harkens back to '70s outlaws like Waylon Jennings, George Jones and Johnny Paycheck. With a band that included three guitars (including Morgan), as well as pedal-steel, bass and drums, his songs veer from drinking song to drinking song, with occasional tangents into heartbreak ballads. And then more drinking songs.
It all makes for a highly entertaining show for the people there to hear some authentic country as well as those yearning to do a little two-steppin'. Last night, Morgan and his charges filled the set with songs from his excellent new album, Sonic Ranch
, a record that captures the stellar interplay between the leader and his band. Three-part harmonies between Morgan, acoustic guitarist Tony Martinez (who opened the show as well) and lead guitarist Joey Spina were genuinely thrilling to hear fill the room, and those three locked into numerous guitar rave-ups throughout the night, joined by pedal-steel master Brett Robinson, whose crying instrument is as responsible for giving Morgan's songs their authentic-country vibe as the man's lyrics full of woman-done-me-wrong tales.
"Ain't Gonna Take It Anymore," with its sing-along refrain of "If I'm going down tonight / I'm going down drinkin'!" was one boisterous highlight among the new songs, as was "Me and the Whiskey" about halfway through the set. Among the new ballads, "Drunken Nights in the City" stood out as a song Morgan will surely include in his shows for years to come.
Well-chosen covers that introduce young fans to the legends who inspired him are a big part of Morgan's shows and albums, and Wednesday night was no different. The band's stellar take on Johnny Paycheck's "Cocaine Train" offered the first round of those stunning harmonies. Another cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" featured Morgan and Co. taking the slight pop ditty and turning it into a sprawling instrumental workout that showcased all six men on stage. A cover of Waylon Jennings' "Waymore's Blues" toward set's end was excellent, particularly teased with the Eagles' "Seven Bridges Road," which Morgan abruptly cut off to shift the band into arguably his most prominent influence's tune.
Elsewhere, old favorites likes "Bad News," "Another Round" and "Sinner" thrilled the folks filling about two-thirds of the Bartlett. And "Turn Up The Bottle," dedicated to George Jones, had the crowd hoisting beer cans and bottles skyward. The size of the crowd didn't disappoint Morgan, who noted that he and the band have traveled through Spokane "thousands of times" before this, their first gig in the Lilac City.
"Spokane, this is our first date," Morgan mused five songs into the show. "I feel like it's going pretty good. I'm feeling like I might get lucky."
On this night, it was the Spokane outlaw country fans who were the lucky ones. Hopefully Morgan and the 78's enjoyed it enough to call again.