David Allan Coe: Live At Billy Bob’s Texas

David Allan Coe Concert at Billy Bob’s Texas 5.05.12

It’s difficult to think of a singer who’s blazed a more convoluted, controversial trail through the past seventy-three or so years of this world’s spinning ‘round than David Allan Coe. Easy to think of stars that have shone brighter, or of artists who imploded young and left us with a legacy perhaps larger than the one they would have forged had they lived out their days. Could Morrison have kept up the fever? Could Cobain have carried all that angst, or would it have faded with financial success and a music world that left grunge in its rearview? We’ll never know, and we’re left with images of those who in our minds never grow old.

Coe, on the other hand, has stepped into minefields with abandon his entire life and is still here kicking and punching and blazing his own trail. It will be difficult when he finally answers Eternity’s call for us to picture him as anything other than the old man we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.Those photographs from his youth are as piercing and vibrant as any snapshots of the ones who died young, but with Coe, they’re just one piece in the puzzle of a legacy. All of which serves, with a host of other factors, to make the life and career of David Allan Coe an intensely interesting story.

Even as his body begins to fail him in these later years, he continues to tour. There are instances where he must be helped from the bus to the green room, at times even cases where he must be physically helped onstage. Others, like Saturday night’s show at Billy Bob’s Texas, find Coe able to walk just fine, even if the music now comes from a perch on a stool. In times past it was easy to catch a DAC concert and feel that much of the heat and passion and fire in the evening was aided by the way he’d stalk the stage, the gestures he’d make – ranging with ease from the friendly to the obscene – and the general vibrant ferocity of his physical presence. The way he delivers songs in 2012 puts the lie to all of that. There’s no denying the physicality involved with Coe’s career, just as there’s no way around the fact that Johnny Cash was a big old boy who could scare you as much with a stare as he could with that voice like God’s. But Toby Keith’s a decent-sized fella who likes to show off his weight-room guns in cutoff denim shirts. And nobody’s scared of him. So while the whole big bad biker outlaw persona may have aided Coe over the years, there’s more to the story. Any fan of his music already knows this, of course. There are a plethora of folks who believe Coe’s catalog starts with “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” and ends with the X-rated recordings.

Those whose listening pursuits have taken them past the jukebox and the frat house realize there’s far, far more involved. And what Coe showed at Billy Bob’s is that, as always, taking him at face value is one hell of a mistake. He may sit calmly on a stool, looking almost docile. But that voice is as strong as it’s ever been, and nowadays even when it cracks, it’s as if by design. Just a structural flaw to drive home the point of a given song.

It’s become commonplace for David Allan to view concerts as medleys, and he held serve on that front as the Billy Bob’s show kicked off. “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” complete with spot-on impersonations of Willie and Waylon both, led off. When Coe channeled the latter, it was almost as if Jennings were once again prowling the fabled stage at the world’s largest honky-tonk. You could see him up there with that familiar growling smile, if you looked close. And Waylon’s music stayed prominent throughout the long medley; songs you know about good old boys and ramblin’ men and a faithful rendition of “I Can Get Off On You” permeated the tracklist. But about twenty minutes in, things took a turn. Coe broke out his own classic “Long Haired Redneck,” and the DAC faithful went wild. That led into an energetic, driven take on “The Ride,” the first full song of the evening. And then, out of nowhere and like the heavens opening after a storm, a slowed down and passionate take on “Jack Daniel’s If You Please” that quieted the room. No small feat, given the legendary size of Billy Bob’s. What Coe did was pull back on the fireworks, let his voice crack where it needed to, and wring every last ounce of pathos out of lines like “you’re the only friend there has ever been who didn’t do me wrong.” In the midst of the agony, it was impossible to miss the irony of the situation, and the song struck home the way it never could in the beer joints where everyone always thinks it’s just a cue to grab another round of shots.

The somber mood stuck around as Coe moved into a couple of selections from the sadder end of Vern Gosdin’s catalog, but then just as effortlessly it was rock ‘em sock ‘em time again on the strength of songs about panheads and a guy who promises himself he’s gonna have a Harley someday. The crowd, nowhere near capacity in a joint the size of the Stockyards’ crown jewel, stayed close and vocal throughout nonetheless. By the time Miss Kimberly hopped on stage – and it’s just cool, and a little bit poignant, to see a badass like DAC always introduce his wife as “Miss Kimberly” – to help out with “Ride ‘Em Cowboy” and “Storms Never Last,” it felt like a honky tonk revival down around the stage.

In not much more than an hour after he’d first sat down, Coe closed his set with “Don’t Think Hank Done It This Way” and walked off under his own power. His son Tyler, who’s the mainstay on lead guitar these days, hung around for a few minutes to turn the end of the song into a guitar solo for the ages. It was odd, yet somehow made sense, to have sixty-plus minutes of perfectly delivered stone cold country music turn into a six-string exhibition. If you ever heard Nuno Bettencourt play “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee” and were impressed, then you need to keep an eye on Coe the younger. The kid has talent, and just like his daddy, he’s honed that talent to a sheen under the pressure of hard, hard work. It says a lot about the man who was once The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy that in his later years his family plays and sings in his band and he’s willing to let a show close out with his son on center stage.

Even as the trail winds toward its end, David Allan Coe perches atop a stool and reminds us all what a treasure it’s been to have him with us on the journey. And what fools we are if we overlook his gifts in the face of his flaws. Ultimately, he’s us. Just sings better, tells the stories in a way we either can’t or won’t. But he has never been afraid to tell the truth, or even really tried to duck the punches that come from those who take issue with bright lights in dark corners. Coe embodies our worst desires, our darkest fears, our brightest hopes, our greatest losses, and the beating survivor’s heart that helps us through them all.

To understand his music is to understand the American dream and the American nightmare at once. To hear him sing his songs interspersed with those of the greats he’s ridden with in what should be deemed an obscenely short concert is, instead, a crash course in the history of the best of country music. The love is obvious, the talent undeniable. It’s just Coe, y’all. It’s David Allan Coe.

If you’re not familiar with Billy Bob’s Texas, or have only heard of it on awards shows where it consistently wins Nightclub of the Year, do yourself a favor and check it out. Not the tourist trap the locals sometimes unfairly label it, not necessarily the local pub you’d choose as your own hardwood version of Cheers. But the only place in north Texas where you can consistently go see the legends of country music in an up close and personal setting without breaking the bank. Cold beer, good food, bull riding, and music for the ages. The most efficient staff you’ll ever encounter, to boot. There’s a reason your kids are welcome there; the place is exceedingly well run and troublemakers simply aren’t tolerated.

 www.billybobstexas.com – take a look and see what you’re missing. The upcoming concert schedule is outstanding. You can also find out a lot more about Coe, good, bad, whatever, on his Official Website. If he’s going to be in your area, it’d be a mistake to miss him. He still brings it, and that voice will still positively melt the coldest heart.

~ Dave Pilot

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Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs.  When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline.  When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas. Visit Dave Pilot on Facebook.

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