by Julian Spivey
Singer-songwriter Hayes Carll and Austin-based rock group Band of Heathens put on one helluva show at The Revolution Room in Little Rock, Ark. on Friday, Dec. 26.
Carll announced that he likes to do an annual Christmas tour between Christmas and New Year’s and always likes to have a date in Little Rock during this tradition. Carll has ties to central Arkansas as he was a 1998 graduate of Hendrix College in Conway. Toward the end of his set he told a humorous story about using college as a backup plan in case his music career didn’t pan out, but how he partied too much and finally graduated with a 2.1 GPA as the last in his class. Good thing the music thing panned out.
It’s always interesting when you go to a show for the main act and have to sit through an opening act that you’ve never even heard of before. Almost always these opening acts are uninteresting, but Band of Heathens captured my attention from their very first song on Friday night in a set that lasted about an hour. It’s good rock ‘n’ roll with country and blues influences with well-written lyrics and a killer vocal duo from Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist. With songs like their catchy opening tune “Carry Your Love” and their terrific finale “Hurricane” the group really got the Rev Room crowed in a good mood and ready for Carll, the primary job of any good opening act. Not once during their hour-long set did I look at the time or wish they’d leave the stage and get to what I paid for.
Not only were Band of Heathens a kickass opening act, but they also stayed to serve as Carll’s band for the evening, as they will do throughout the entire mini-tour. The Little Rock stop was the first show on Carll’s Christmas tour making it the very first time he’d ever performed with Band of Heathens as his backing band. The two melded brilliantly and you never would have known this had Carll not mentioned it as the sound was album like quality all night long.
Carll had the Rev Room audience in the palm of his hand the entire night as they sang song after song with him and stomped their feet and swayed and danced to the music. He’s one of the most gifted singer-songwriters in the Americana genre – mixing rock, folk and country together perfectly.
He began his set with “Beaumont,” from his 2008 album Trouble in Mind, much to the delight of the packed crowd. It was a fitting song to kick off the show with New Year’s right around the corner with the lyrics: “I saw you leanin' on a memory/With your back turned to the crowd/In that little bar on Murphy/Where they play guitar too loud/There were people drinkin' whiskey/There were hearts about to leave/It was cold as hell for Houston/It was almost New Year’s Eve.”
Carll performed songs from all four of his studio albums and tried some new stuff out on the audience to great reaction. He hasn’t released a new album in almost four years, so he may be gearing up for a new one in 2015.
He went through what could be considered his “greatest hits” at the Rev Room: “I Got a Gig,” “Sit in with the Band,” “Down the Road Tonight,” “KMAG YOYO” and “Wild as a Turkey.”
The Little Rock crowd particularly enjoyed when Carll performed “Little Rock” from his 2005 album of the same name with much of the crowd singing along proudly in unison.
In honor of the holidays Carll performed “Grateful for Christmas,” a humorous song about surviving the merry time of year with the family, from his 2011 album KMAG YOYO. It was the perfect song to perform with Christmas having been the day before.
Things really started to turn up a notch when Carll ramped up the sound toward the end of his set with “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” “Hard Out Here” and finishing with “Stomp & Holler.” All three performances were true highlights from this great show.
Stomping and hollering was exactly what the full crowd was doing in hopes of getting Carll to return to the stage for an encore. He obliged with more terrific music including “Rivertown” and the hard rocking “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” before leaving the stage again to a rapturous ovation.
Carll poured his heart out on stage for a good two hours burning through 20 or more of his finest songs proving that many of the best performances you’ll ever see will be at small venues like the Rev Room, which always has fantastic sound. Few artists that I’ve seen in person have ever seemed to give as much energy on stage as Carll did on Friday night. His Christmas to New Year’s tour is a tradition of his and hopefully will become a new tradition of mine, as well.