Remember a bunch of years ago when Joe Strummer (RIP) was asked his thoughts about what constituted “punk” and his answer was along the lines of “punk isn’t about the boots or the hair dye” and instead it’s about having exemplary manners to your fellow humans and especially about not being an asshole? Because I do, and because if you ask me – and I’m operating on the assumption that you did because you’re reading Dying Scene – some of the most “punk rock” music that’s being created in American music nowadays doesn’t come from bands that are on “punk” labels or play music that involves Les Pauls and Marshall stacks or mohawks or skateboards or two-tone wingtips or come from places like southern California or the streets of Boston. Instead, some of the most important and progressive and culturally-inclusive and, in that sense, most “punk rock” music being created comes from places like Tennessee and Texas and the Carolinas and the Deep South and comes from music we’d traditionally call “Americana” or “outlaw country.” There is something inherently “punk rock” about sticking up for the poor or the marginalized or the different or the outcasts when you live in a place that those of us in our safe, suburban coastal elite homes might otherwise look down upon for the Redness of their political views.
And so it was that a tour featuring a pair of acts that have been featured at places like the Grand Ol’ Opry and the Ryman Auditorium and the State Fair of Texas and onThe Tonight Show w/Jimmy Fallon became, in my mind, one of the most eagerly-anticipated “punk rock” tours of the early stages of the year that is 2023. I’m talking, of course, about the recent Joshua Ray Walker/Vandoliers tour that found itself upstairs at the iconic Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts, last week. It was the first time that either of the acts – who both hail from the Lone Star State – had played in Massachusetts, and safe to say it was a resounding success.
Vandoliers had been very recently in the news for auctioning off their stage-worn dresses after a show in Tennessee in protest of that state’s abhorrent anti-drag legislation, and they carried that energy through a barn-burning hourlong show-opening set. Frontman Josh Fleming pointed out how he’d spent many hours in his younger years watching old YouTube videos of punk shows that had taken place at the Middle East over the years, and while his band’s sound may include a fiddle and a trumpet and a large-body Gibson acoustic and songs about highways in its home state, the live show is every bit as “punk rock” as many of those performances from years-gone-by. Personal highlights included “Cigarettes In The Rain” and “Every Saturday Night” and, of course, their rousing cover of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” a song that I’m 99% sure I saw Down By Law cover in that same venue more than a quarter-century ago.
Headlining this run – although both acts played hourlong sets so it made it feel like a co-headlining affair – was the one-and-only Joshua Ray Walker. If you’re not familiar, here’s the brief version: Walker is a Texas-born-and-bred singer and songwriter and dare I say guitar virtuoso. He’s a larger-than-life figure both in myriad ways and writes songs that can make you smile (see “Sexy After Dark”) and songs that can make you cry (see “Voices” or “Canyon” or like 3/4ths of the rest of the catalog) and, quite frequently, songs that can do both at the same time (see their honky-tonkified version of “Hello”). Oh, and he’s got a voice like a goddamned angel.
The live music scene in the greater Boston area can be a bit of a fickle beast at times, particularly for bands that aren’t from around here; I’ve seen far bigger “punk rock” names play the very same venue to far smaller and less enthusiastic crowds than the one that showed up to party and dance and holler on this particular late winter Tuesday evening. Because it’s not about the mohawks or the hair dye – it’s about the people and the connection. See more pictures from the shindig below!
Joshua Ray Walker Slideshow
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