At last year's Honky Tonk Hodgepodge at Cold Beer New Mexico (aka Colfax Tavern), outside of Cimmaron, New Mexico, a local woman took offense to Bib Tucker and the Liars Club's attire. That day, the band, which includes singer/guitarist Justin Horrigan, bassist Eric Johnston (of the Outfit), guitarist/pedal steel Tyler Breuer (of the Knew), and drummer Christopher Johnston, who together play a brand of tongue-in-cheek outlaw country, were decked out in colorful and slightly obnoxious pearl-snap shirts (courtesy of Rockmount Ranchwear), cowboy boots and hats. The woman, from nearby Raton, had admonished the group on stage for their appearance, and then continued to voice her displeasure. "I don't like how they come to rural New Mexico and dress like cowboys; it's like they're making fun of us,” she said to anyone who would listen.
"You know they dress like that every time they play, right?" I said. "They dress just like that when they play in Denver."
"Oh, really?" she responded. "Well, that's fine, then."
The challenge of watching Bib Tucker and the Liars Club is trying to figure out how serious they are. The band's attire, lyrics and stage banter could be viewed as mockery, or it could be viewed as an homage to a different time in country music, when legends like Gram Parsons donned nudie suits with images of pot leaves and eagles elaborately sewn onto them.
When planning the release show for its debut EP, A Demonstration (available on cassette and via cactus download, as seen below), the band decided to hold it at an unusual venue: Deno’s 6 & 85, "Colorado's oldest truck stop." This choice of venue for the show last Saturday, June 11, was further evidence of the band's interpretation of country-music tradition and made for a bizarre, entertaining night.
While Deno’s is a mere six miles from downtown Denver, its regular clientele is a far cry from that of the South Broadway clubs that the members' other bands usually play. I was curious as to whether truckers pulling into town would be as flummoxed and combative as the regulars in Cold Beer New Mexico. Unfortunately, while a few regulars popped their heads in, they generally did not stay long, and retreated to their idling rigs parked outside.
Faceman, which opened up the show, did manage to coerce one regular to come up on stage; he gleefully sang along with the band for two songs even though it was clear he didn't know the words. The band, which just put the finishing touches on an excellent new album, Wild and Hunting, seems to thrive on unique, quirky shows and appeared to be right at home in the setting. (Faceman is in the process of planning a November show featuring more than ninety Denver bands.)
Next was Wheelchair Sports Camp, which didn’t seem to be taking this performance with a great deal of seriousness. MC Kalyn Heffernan, drummer Greg Ziemba and trumpeter Joshua Trinidad played a series of covers that they "didn't know that well," including songs from Snoop Dogg, Nicki Minaj and Drake. Regardless, the trio's playfulness and musical adeptness are always fun to watch, even when its members are faking their way through other people's songs.
Bib Tucker and the Liars Club made an auspicious entrance, setting off the fire alarm with their smoke machine before they even played a note. After the staff took care of that issue, the band opened up its set with "Big Rig Rita.” The song's lyrics revolve around falling in love with a long-haul trucker named Rita, imploring her to "set my parking brake."
While most of Bib Tucker's lyrics revolve around satirical subjects like trucker love, fighting zombies on the golf course and felonious family members, the band is musically tight and well practiced. Here, Horrigan and Breuer traded tasteful guitar licks while the Johnston brothers supplied the crucial two-stepping low end and backing vocals.
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From an outsider’s perspective, Bib Tucker's songs and the way the band dresses may appear to be an elaborate inside joke. Overanalyzing the extent of the joke, however, may be missing the point. Performing at truck stops and releasing albums on cactuses may be unconventional and a tad kitsch, but in a world that constantly takes itself too seriously, the Bib Tuckers of the world remind us that music is fun and should always be a little strange.