Matching a musical act with the right venue would seem to be a no-brainer. If you’re a dance band, you want as few bolted seats in the place as possible. If your music requires acute acoustics, you don’t perform in an echo chamber.
Unfortunately for the audience, sometimes money intervenes: A band that has played sweaty, sold-out bars and dance halls gets a sweeter contract to play in a venue where people fork over larger admission fee to sit in rows and not bring their alcohol down the aisle, or that intimate chamber trio has a classical superstar who gets showcased in the equivalent of an airport hanger. As career moves go, it’s penny wise, but pound foolish.
But most of the time common sense lines up with the economics (the way Capitalism 101 says it will), and some of the time the venue actually enhances the music and thus the concert-going experience. I fully expect this to happen tonight when Whitey Morgan & the 78s play Lee’s Liquor Lounge wedged near the homeless shelter and the fancy new ballpark in downtown Minneapolis.
Whitey Morgan has the requisite talent and pedigree to play authentic, close-to-the-bone honky tonk music, and Lee’s is one of the premiere honky tonks in these parts. Morgan hails from Flint, Mich., the auto town whose economic hard times have been recounted by filmmaker Michael Moore and others. It is the quintessential blue collar burgh, full of hard-drinkin’, god-fearin’ workers who gravitate toward the blend of country, rock, blues, and Texas swing music that are the rudiments of honky tonk.
Whitey Morgan came up through the Flint bar scene and earned enough of a name to issue his debut record, “Honky Tonks and Cheap Motels,” on the Detroit-based Smallstone Recordings label in 2008. But in the intervening two years, he’s put together an ace band that is featured on the eponymous “Whitey Morgan & the 78s” disc, released last month on Chicago’s well-regarded Bloodshot Records, which, like Lee’s, is a great fit for their music.
Morgan and his band have wedded their Flint experience to the attitude of “outlaw country” music as personified not only by Waylon Jennings and vintage Willie Nelson, but by Billy Joe Shaver, David Allen Coe and Johnny Paycheck. The new 78s record covers Paycheck’s “Meanest Jukebox In Town,” Hank Cochran’s “Memories Cost A Lot” and J.D. Loudermilk’s “Bad News” — choices reflecting an artist with a deep emotional investment in the genre.
But Morgan & the 78s are much more than a glorified cover band. It’s his kindred originals that anchor the new record, from his eulogy for “Buick City” to his George Jones tribute “Turn Up The Bottle” to crowd-pleasing “I Ain’t Drunk,” sure to be played toward the end of the evening. This is unsubtle but well-crafted tunesmithing, and the band’s braid of guitars, fiddle and vocals carry it home with a large helping of beer-soaked sentiment.
Here is the group just last week performing Dale Watson’s “Where Do Ya Want It,” about guns and Billy Joe Shaver.
Here they are earlier this year playing “Turn Up The Bottle.”
Whitey Morgan & the 78s at Lee’s Liquor Lounge, tonight at 10:30 p.m. Admission $7.