If you were at the James McMurtry show last night in Fall River, Massachusetts, your least favorite intellectually dishonest blogger was there with you. I had forgotten how utterly compelling McMurtry could be live. He doesn’t exactly scream charisma, either on his albums or in his bearing or in his limited singing voice. He’s extremely socially awkward and only interacts with the crowd to the extent that he wants to tell them things. But in this solo acoustic show (the first time I’ve seen him in this format, though this is probably the 7th or so time I’ve seen him), I don’t know that I have ever seen an audience as singularly focused on the performer. Usually there’s some jerks talking, people milling about, whatever. Not last night. It was almost total attention. I guess it’s a combination of his unusual personal intensity (he really seems to start right through you when performing) and the amazing quality of the songs.
True story. In 2005, I was driving back from Las Vegas to Santa Fe. And I was getting really sick. By the hour, I was feeling worse and worse. I suppose I should have had my friend drive, but he hated driving and didn’t own a car. Anyway, by the time we got to Flagstaff I was really struggling and thinking about pulling over for a nap or to have him take over. But he had just purchased McMurtry’s Live in Aught-Three album. The only of his albums I think I had at that point was Where’d You Hide the Body, so I wasn’t all that knowledgeable of his catalog. Anyway, listening to this, struggling to go on, was the first time I ever heard “Choctaw Bingo.” I was so blown away and so amused by this comedic tour de force of a meth family that it picked me right up and I slammed through the rest of that drive and got home OK. I credit it with helping to save my life that night. This is a song that works best electric, but it was highly enjoyable to see last night in any form.