After checking into the Highland Inn, (the best place to stay in Atlanta in my humble opinion, even with its funky percussive radiator heating--hey, Joan Baez slept there), I walked around Little Five Points, browsed The Junkyard's Daughter, flipped through the bins at Criminal Records (find of the day, a good, used Wombats A Guide to Love, Loss, and Desperation--an upbeat, silly antidote to my serious, sad bastard tendencies, though "Let's Dance to Joy Division" conflates it all nicely), and wandered among the few tattooed and pierced hipsters brave enough to face the heat and daylight and yuppie moms power-strolling toward the park. It was a good way to kill time until I was to meet up with Tara, a former student and fine singer who's soon off to China to teach, and her old Valdosta friend Leigh Ann for dinner before the Ninja Gun show at The Earl. We supped at Zaya nearby where the girls could load up on dollar Ketel One drinks before the show and the food was generally very good Middle Eastern/Mediterranean fare, especially the hummus.
We headed to the show at the Earl and met up with many other former and current Valdosta folks, including Dixie and Camille and Kenny and Jason and Damon (my hero for booking The Reputation at Vito's here) and John and Maybeth and Jessie (Coody's sweet gal), ready to enjoy our local heroes Ninja Gun at a serious venue (hey, Califone played there). It's Elephant opened enthusiastically enough, but didn't capture my interest as the lead singer tried too hard to modulate between Eddie Vedder and Robert Plant.
Ninja Gun started the strongest set I'd heard from them, assisted by a superior sound system that let them showcase their country punk songs with lucid vocals yet still as loud as they wanna be. They opened with their new, sweet Rainbow Song ("Hey, man, do you wanna see a rainbow?") that Coody co-penned with his niece, then pumped things up with "Restless Rubes," the title song that revises Robert Frost, just a bit:
A hometown can burn you to the ground
So turn a tire around until you’re fine.
In a yellow wood
Two roads converged and the way he should
Go was clear
He left them bridges burning
They powered through a strong set from the new cd, including "Darwin was a Baptist" with its deft humor and fine, ironic chorus, "Can I get a little church in my state?/ Give me one more reason to hate everything around me," anchoring a biting critique of life that "surrounds" anyone in the bible belt. "Eight Miles Out" rocked with its upbeat take on doubt, and maybe my favorite on the album, "Permanent Press," with it's ringing guitar progression and its poignant hint of William Carlos Williams' "Between Walls" in the light-through-glass imagery for this ars musica:
So write yourself in melody and make the words agree
Lay it out for all to see just who you used to be.
‘Cause oh the seasons, do they pass
Like naked sunshine through broken glass
The days will slide on by too fast if you don’t try.
"The Last Cowboy" and "Asking Price," an anthem against selling out, also shone before the enthusiastic crowd at The Earl. They closed with their raucous country punk version of "Please, Please Me," which Coody asserts is the first true punk rock song. Ninja Gun makes a convincing case, and all of us from down here in little ole Valdosta were swelling with pride.
Missy Gossip and the Secret Keepers closed out the night and surprised with Lauren Staley's strong vocals hinting at what Linda Ronstadt dipped in Georgia peach might sound like. They played a good, crunching southern rock set punctuated by a fine torch song or two.
It was a fine evening to share with friends, and I headed back to the Highland, a good bottle of red waiting to help my evening reflections.