Alex’s Bar Long Beach, CA
Contact: [email protected]
Players: Katie Jo, guitar, vocals; George Madrid, pedal steel; Dominic Furiani, guitar; Nic Gonzalez, bass; Garrit Tillman, drums
Material: It was a wild night, a “Country Sundays” at Alex’s Bar, and the SoCal punters were getting into the honky-tonk spirit. Shots were tossed back by guys and gals in Stetson hats and scuffed jeans and, at one point, a fight broke out. Not much of a fight granted; it was all over after a lot of pushing and yelling, and some girlfriend-tears. But still, it all felt very authentically “outlaw country” well before the magnificent Katie Jo took to the stage. And damn, did the Los Angeles-via-Wichita artist ever own that stage. Her Patsy Cline-esque, smooth and melancholy delivery is enough to reduce the hardest heart to mush. All of the songs were new to us, yet they all left their mark. The opening “How Soon” gave way to “I Don’t Know Where Your Heart’s Been,” then “Bad Religion” kicked in. There was a cover of the Steeldrivers' “Wearing a Hole,” and by the time she closed with “Prairie Flower,” the whole crowd was sold on her.
Musicianship: As well as the fact that Jo herself is a great player with a gorgeous, emotive voice, she’s assembled a killer band. Furiani’s guitar complements her beautifully, and Madrid on pedal steel brings the flourishes. The rhythm section of Gonzalez and Tillman, meanwhile, is air tight. Jo might well be the star of the show, but she’s pulled together a stellar set of musicians that frame her songs to perfection.
Performance: It’s somehow perfect, despite (or perhaps because of) the complete lack of a stage show. The songs, most from her Pawn Shop Queen album, are performed poignantly here, each one seemingly wrenched from the depths of Jo’s soul. There’s a Lynchian, Twin Peaks element to the performance—a weird darkness in the vibe that is very welcome. It all worked wonderfully well.
Summary: Katie Jo says on her own website that Pawn Shop Queen “tackles themes at the dark heart of country music: infidelity, religion, depression.” It shows. When country music isn’t obsessing over pearly white teeth, rhinestones, trucks and guns, it can be as poetic and heartfelt as any other genre. Jo knows this, and she makes it work for her. These are her songs, and her emotions. This is her heart and soul that she’s presenting to the listener, and it’s not always an easy experience but it’s certainly a satisfying one.