Chris Shiflett With Brian Whelan At Resident, Sunday April 2nd 2017
I was wondering how Chris Shiflett felt last night, how he felt when he took the stage of Resident, the cool small club downtown LA. He is well known for being the guitarist of one of the most successful rock bands of the last decades, the Foo Fighters, and these guys obviously play massive festivals and huge arenas, so how does it feel to be on a tiny stage in such an intimate place? He didn’t show any sign of discomfort, on the contrary, he was totally at ease, joking with us and may be quite eager to play the frontman for once, and his set at the Resident couldn’t have been executed in a cooler ambiance with a more laid back attitude.
Chris Shiflett is on tour to promote the release of his upcoming album ‘West Coast Town’ (out on April 14th and he welcome us with some ‘it’s good to be home’ greetings. He recorded this new one in Nashville’s legendary RCA Studio A last summer, with the help of Grammy Award-winning producer Dave Cobb, who also produced Chris Stapleton, Shooter Jennings, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson,… and live, you could feel some of this vibrant energy injected in an old genre. ‘’I wrote ‘West Coast Town’ about growing up in Santa Barbara in the Seventies and Eighties and what that felt like to me,’ said Shiflett in an interview with Rolling Stone Country. ‘The demo version had a completely different groove, but Cobb flipped it on its head and took it further out west, more Californian. I’m glad he did.’
Brian Whelan had opened the night with his own set of country, and it took me a few minutes to realize I had already seen him at one of these Grand Ole Echo Sunday afternoons last year. He had hooks and gave a punchy rendition of Chuck Berry’s ‘Let It Rock’, and, to me, anyone who covers Chuck Berry and Willie Nelson (he did ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain’) in the same set has already won my heart. He is definitively a young guy with an old-school ethic, as he was Dwight Yoakam’s multi instrumentalist for five years, released his first album ‘Decider’ in 2012, before co-producing his next one, ‘Sugarland’, with Mitch Marine (Yoakam’s drummer), and re-affirming his solo career. He is apparently touring with the Foo-Fighters-turned-country guitarist, he played with him during the night while harmonizing on many songs, and he even co-wrote four songs from Shiflett’s new album.
Whelan’s set was truly enjoyable and fun, a tap footing hooky experience with great honky-tonk sing-alongs, he is visibly not bothering with the ocean of vagueness we tend to include in Americana, this guy is playing plain country. ‘I see many people with cow boy hats’ he said at one point of the show while a few couples were even dancing.
Chris Shiflett’s new album is classified as alt-country and this is where I get confused, if this is alt country while the top-of-the-country-chart albums from people I would not bother to name here (you probably know them better than I do) are current country, this is all wrong! Shiflett’s music was vibrant, often gut punching, with a California foot-tapping tempo and plenty of catchy choruses, it was the type of music to bring your mood up with plenty of headlong of guitars layering at the top of each other.
The sings were half way nostalgic, with a true fondness for California and its beaches, halfway country-punk – I have even seen the term cow-punk somewhere – more old-school than outlaw country – with infectious dance-y rhythms bound to never let you down. Sure there was nothing groundbreaking in all this, the genre has been done and redone, and Shiflett is not Sturgill Simpson despite the help of Dave Cobb, but his ease and energy on stage, his friendly attitude and complete guitar-command made the night a truly great time.
They played the entire upcoming album plus a few covers, and I am sure you could hear a bit of everything during his set, a bit of Social Distortion, a bit of Townes van Zandt, may be a bit of Dwight Yoakan too? But honestly nothing that would remotely remind me about the Foo Fighters! It was vintage country at its beast, the type to make you nostalgic for a cowboy hat, and I never, never, never, wear anything on my head.
Tiger by the Tail
Sticks and Stones
The Girl’s Already Gone
Goodnight Little Rock
Blow Out the Candles
I’m Still Drunk
Happy Part of Town
Bull By the Horns
Tonight’s Not Over
Still Better Days
West Coast Town
Swinging Doors (Merle Haggard)