There are some bands that words cannot adequately describe. If I were to try and sum up the feeling one would get from listening to Southern Culture On The Skids it would include images of driving down a coastal highway in a pick-up truck while wearing a truckers hat. This quartet from Chapel Hill, North Carolina has been at it for well over 20 years, playing a playful blend of rockabilly, surf, punk rock and just a hint of traditional country & western music. I had the opportunity to check them out live for the first time at the Great American Music Hall. Hunkering down in the crowd with a beer in hand, I was about to learn exactly how much fun a woman with a bucket of fried chicken could have.
The crowd was about what you’d expect to see at a show with a band called Southern Culture On The Skids; a mix of predominantly white men and women many of whom most likely saw the band play live for the first time back in the 80’s. Of course, there was a sprinkle of the under 30 crowd as well. For a show that did not sell out, there was no lacking in energy or enthusiasm, however, as everyone (present company included) was juiced up and ready to go!
The band came out looking like, well, southern culture, definitely on the skids here in San Francisco. Lead singer Rick Miller looked awesome in his t-shirt, overalls, and pork pie hat, while bassist Mary Huff was looking considerably younger than I guessed her age to be, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, a mini skirt, sparkly tights and boots.
As soon as they started playing, the party took off, flowing through a set of material that spanned their entire career, including a huge chunk from their latest record, The Kudzu Ranch. All of it sounding like it could alternate between being played at the Santa Cruz boardwalk and Thee Parkside. This band is part of a very small contingent of musicians that never really played around with their sound much, but always put out consistent material that can flow right into itself. Similar examples being AC/DC and The Ramones. There wasn’t even a written set list to speak of. The band played what it felt like the crowd wanted, and there was also a great sense of intuition, the kind that comes from playing together for a decade and a half.
As the band kept playing, the crowd kept dancing harder. Whenever it struck Miller’s whim, he’d spot a lady and ask her to come up and dance on stage. After a while, it just became par for the course for women of all ages and shapes to hop on stage and dance with the band. By the time they played the classic “Banana Pudding,” they had about 7 women dancing on stage, and the track was loaded with so much hillybilly flavored reverb, that I almost thought I was in a Quentin Tarantino film. It moved to the next level when they stopped the song to distribute pieces of fried chicken to the dancers, and we had a stage full of ladies dancing and eating and a few even flinging the carcasses into the crowd. It would’ve been gross if it wasn’t so cool looking.
The set was exactly two hours, and it felt like 20 minutes, which is always a good sign. They understand what a Saturday night rock show should be, which is unapologetic, carefree, and silly. Not to mention, tasty.