Former punks and present cowpunks splayed open their hearts in the tradition of the great singer-songwriters last night at 3 Kings Tavern. Lenny Lashley, former Darkbuster frontman and current frontman of Lenny and the Piss Poor Boys, Chad Price, former ALL singer and Drag the River (aka Drag the Liver) singer, and Pete Stein, former Truckstop Coffee member and current member of...eh, himself, were on hand to put a river of tears in our suds as we approach the happiest day of the year. All three of these singer songwriters are veterans of whiskey-soaked nights, broken hearts and long stretches of lonely road.
It was a lonely night at 3 Kings on Friday, a mixed blessing at best, a poor showing at worst. But you don't spend a night with broken-hearted singer-songwriters expecting a sold-out stadium crowd. Still, whether it was the cold weather, a plethora of Christmas parties or D.R.I. in town at the Bluebird, far too few people came out to enjoy the sounds of Lenny Lashley, Chad Price and Pete Stein. But then again, a singer songwriter show is always an intimate thing and fewer people allows the singers to connect more with audience.
Lashley opened the show by saying, "I'm Lenny Lashely, a gang of one," and broke into song. By his second song, "Whiskey & Water," an old Darkbusters tune, you knew what you were in for throughout the night. Stripped from his punk rock roots, Lashley has a kind of Elvis Costello style of singing and songwriting -- if Elvis Costello were from Boston.
Lashley had a self-deprecating humor that softened the mood between songs. But nothing sums Lashley up more than this lyric from Anti-Christmas: "I've had some Guinness and some Internet porn." A song about his pending divorce -- and, of course, the time of year. It's a Christmas song that doesn't suck.
"Leaving in the Morning" is a Lenny and the Piss Poor Boys song often covered by Drag the River. "That's how I first heard about him," said Virgil Dickerson, owner of Denver-based Suburban Home Records. "I found out and thought, 'I've got to find this record.' I found it and ordered it from the label; it took me eight weeks to get it. Then I listened to it like a thousand times." Since then he's talked with Lashley and has reached an agreement to re-release Lenny and the Piss Poor Boys on Suburban Home.
Lashley brought Price on stage to sing an impassioned version of "Leaving," and then closed his set with "Can't Take Anymore," an anthemic punk song stripped down to one man. You couldn't help but feel he had a backing band ripping it up behind him on that song.
Lashley was a hard act to follow and though Pete Stein tried, he couldn't quite top it. Stein's from Knoxville, Tennessee, where so much whiskey flows even the children have raspy voices. "This One Goes Out to the Front of The Crowd," was probably his rowdiest song, and he played and sang it well, but the song's lyrics wreaked of cliches. He's your run-of-the-mill alt-country singer-songwriter, with a voice somewhere between Ben Nichols and Tom Petty.
The difference between Lashley, Price and Stein -- at least at 3 Kings last night -- is that Lashley and Price make you want to hear their sad tales. Stein has the goods, the voice, the playing, but he hasn't put it together in as compelling a way.
Lashley's a great songwriter, with a unique voice ,and he sells his songs with a laugh between. Price is also a great songwriter with a beautiful voice and one-off style of singing. He opened up with "Lend Me Your Ears" and you really have no choice. His voice attracts imbibers and enthusiasts like moths to flame. His sweet voice is like a shot of Irish whiskey, smooth mellow and with a helluva kick at the end. "Peachy Tuscadero," Price's happiest song, is about his dog peachy, but the way he sings it, you'd think it was a song about the love of his life.
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When Price plays, there's no doubt he enjoys as many shots and drinks as the patrons, brought onstage by friends and fans. And when he's done with his normal set, he'll undoubtedly play requests. Last night was no exception.
As he worked his way through the requests he'd forget some of the lyrics, stop ask the crowd, what he was singing again, then spontaneously, almost magically resume the next lyric and chord as if nothing ever happened. It's kind of like a drunk in mid-conversation losing their place, digressing and coming back to it, but Price is a good story teller and joy to get drunk to, sad songs and all.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Personal Bias: Sometimes you just need to have a night with whiskey and lonely songs. Random Detail: Lashley looks like Buddy Holly, if he ever got old, shaved his hair short and wore and military pants. By the Way: Drag the River will be playing with Lashley and Stein in at the Triple Nickel in Colorado Springs tonight.