Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters: Highline Ballroom, NYC, 8/18/08

Armageddon, Bad Santa, The Ice Harvest, The Boxmasters...the what? No, this is not the next dark comedy starring Billy Bob Thornton as the grouchy, always intoxicated Southerner with a chip on his shoulder. The Boxmasters are much better than that. For those who don't know (and I was one of these people), over the past several years, Hollywood veteran Thornton has passionately pursued a second career as a singer-songwriter. His prior band, Tres Hombres was hailed by rock icon Billy Gibbons (Z.Z. Top) and his most recent incarnation, The Boxmasters, is deserving of equal praise. I know what you're thinking: Actor gets rich. Actor gets bored. Actor releases an album. Album sucks. Actor goes back to acting (think Lindsey Lohan). Quite the contrary, Thornton, whose roots are in rock and blues, does not follow this oft ill-fated formula. In fact, he pulls off his latest role in convincing fashion. After all, he is a country boy at heart.

The show is broken into two one-hour sets. The first set consists of what the band describes as "Electric Hillbilly" -- a retro blend of rockabilly and 60's Brit-pop. Each member wears an identical Savile Row-esqe suit with matching pompadours and black-framed glasses -- campy enough to make even John Waters envious (in a good way). As for the sound, Thornton casually mans the mic (and cigarette) while backed by a tremendous group of talented musicians. Lead guitarist Michael Wayne Butler is reminiscent of a young Brian Setzer and Nashville-style pedal steel player Marty Rifkin - affectionately called "Hank III" by Thornton (presumably after the First Family of country music) - is a potent addition to the seven-piece ensemble. From a technical standpoint, the band is exceptional. Each member undoubtedly has extensive experience with their respective instruments -- always a good thing. The second set was straight up "balls to the wall" rock n' roll. Basically, the band adds a few extra guitarists and Thornton shows off his grittier side (and his tattoos).

Now everyone knows that NYC is a hard place to win over a crowd. But last night, the more or less 250 in attendance seemed to have enjoyed every minute. Frankly, I wasn't sure what to expect from the audience. The crowd ranged from Bergen County to Long Island to the East Village to the Upper East Side. That is a tough group to please.

Oh...I forgot to mention one last bit of information: Early in the show, I brushed by none other than Mr. Warren Haynes near the back of the venue. Having seen Warren sit-in with numerous bands over the past few years, I figured the same would happen last night. But as the band was wrapping up the 2nd set, I was starting to lose faith. Then, out of the blue, Warren humbly took the stage, Les Paul and all, and blew everyone away with one of his trademark solos. What can't this guy do!?!

I and a fellow Weightstaffer were fortunate enough to score backstage passes for the show and had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. Thornton and his mates. Everyone was straight up cool -- no attitudes. They exchanged war stories while we quietly listened. We even shared some of our own memories with Warren regarding some of the gigs he played with the Allman Bros., Levon, and Phil Lesh. Hearing his perspective on some of our most meaningful concert experiences was quite surreal.

[Shameless plug] Save the money you were going to spend on the new Star Wars movie, throw down a few Buds, sport your American flag bandanna and catch The Boxmasters when they pass through town. He is Billy Bob Thornton after all...


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did you tell Warren Haynes you saw him at the jimmy vivino birthday tribute? I wonder what he thought of that show.