By Elise Lundstrom
ArtsPost staff writer
Cowboy Mouth, a band renowned for its live performances, performed Friday at the 9:30 Club and from the moment the band members took the stage, they electrified the crowd with their presence.
Cowboy Mouth began the show with the fury and rowdiness of a true rock band. Fred LeBlanc, lead vocalist and drummer, dressed in a black Dickies shirt, athletic shorts and no shoes, started out not with music but a back-and-forth chant: “The name of the band is?!” “Cowboy Mouth!” the packed house responded. “The name of the band IS?!” “COWBOY MOUTH!”
The crowd, made up mostly of fans who knew the lyrics and sang along with gusto, was at LeBlanc’s command. If he asked them to sing, they sang. If he asked them to scream, jump or “go crazy,” they did, and happily, because as you find out: you get what you give at a Cowboy Mouth show. Rewards came in tossed Mardi Gras beads, picks from the guitarists, thrown drumsticks and, most importantly, great music.
Along with LeBlanc, lead guitarist John Thomas Griffith sang lead on a few songs, the most memorable being “Everybody Loves Jill.” The song is a list of red things that Jill likes, and during a cult line, “Fred eats with a red spoon!” the audience throws red plastic spoons at LeBlanc onstage.
On bass, Regina Zernay twirled around the stage in her white go-go boots and red pigtails, and back-up guitarist Jonathon “JP” Pretus played quietly and skillfully on the side, and added a softer back-up voice to many of the songs.
Throughout the performance, LeBlanc stressed the importance of a Mardi Gras mentality intertwined with strikingly insightful messages about life and love. “Belly” is a song about loving a woman with curves while “all the skinny girls are standin’ in the back of the line,” and “I Believe” has a message about “the power of love” and believing that life can be all that you want it to be.
Cowboy Mouth has a devotion to New Orleans and consequently the Super Bowl- bound Saints. They sang a version of “I Believe” that is a tribute to the NFL team. The singers interjected the Saints and their quarterback Drew Brees into many of the songs, which had the audience laughing and cheering all night. Peyton Manning of the opposing Indianapolis Colts, and originally from New Orleans, got due attention with LeBlanc stating “he better remember where he f***ing came from!”
The pounding and upbeat music kept everyone on their feet, singing, dancing and chanting along, giving LeBlanc the “energy” and “rhythm” that he regularly demanded. The audience took many of the band’s messages to heart, letting everything go and embracing Mardi Gras in January. As LeBlanc observed, “You come to a Cowboy Mouth show to cut loose, don’t cha?!”
Junior Brown, renowned for his invention of the “guilt-steel,” a double-necked instrument, half steel guitar, half traditional guitar, opened for Cowboy Mouth. His husky baritone voice, which at times dipped into bass, was secondary to his masterful guitar work. Junior switched seamlessly from strumming the top half of the instrument to playing the bottom steel strings. At one point the notes were so high that dogs must have been howling somewhere.
His music was lively, with lyrics mostly about romance. “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead” and “Long Walk Back to San Antone” warn about dangerous love and lament love lost. However, “Highway Patrol” kept the audience amused with its unapologetic words about the duties of a patrol officer. His mastery of the instrument he invented was apparent and the audience was appreciative. Every particularly complex set was applauded and cheered and people seemed genuinely awed by his finger work.
Though the pairing of the suit-and-tie wearing, traditional Southern drawl of Junior Brown and the more contemporary rock star qualities of Cowboy Mouth seem odd at first, they complemented each other. Junior Brown symbolized the traditional Southern music that Cowboy Mouth took inspiration from. They shared a sense of humor and playfulness in their music that made Junior a great opener for the headliner.
The show was a rousing success, with the audience demanding extra songs from Cowboy Mouth and then an encore following the last number, their best known song, “Jenny Says.” Cowboy Mouth brought the care-free attitude of Mardi Gras to the audience, while encouraging them not to “sweat the small stuff,” “let go of the things that bring you down,” and to “tilt your head back and scream!”
Cowboy Mouth’s next show is in Newport, Ky., at the Southgate House on Feb. 3. The band continues their tour with Junior Brown until Feb. 10. Fearless, Cowboy Mouth’s most recent album, was released in September of last year.