Observations / Shows

Whiskey Tones: A Southern Ungirl is Bitchslapped by her own Roots.

The Viper Room. Dark, dirty, filled with the breath of booze. A stage the size of a closet snuggled into the corner. Bartenders with black dye dumped on their hair like bucket paint.

If I had told some random kid there that Kris Allen was about to perform, I would have been laughed at.

Kris Allen? Isn’t he the boring dude who won American Idol? The married Christian guy? The acoustic singer-songwriter with no personality?

Except that this was a secret show, scraped together by the scruff of Kris’s own boots after a canceled fair in Los Angeles, and he and his band were performing as ‘Sirk and the Dirty Minds’. At the dirty, badass Viper Room in West Hollywood.

I knew the show would be just as dirty. And Kris delivered.

I grew up in the South, like him. I don’t make an advertisement of it, because as much as I adore my family and would not trade them in for anything, I’m a city girl now. I’m from Tennessee originally but ran away to Los Angeles after college. Perhaps due to its unpleasant associations with Southern Baptist culture, I’ve been trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to disown my Southern heritage. [This is very difficult when you find yourself vehemently defending grits.]

Following an extended evening of karaoke with out-of-town Kris fans in tow and a day of cavorting through my current backyard barefoot, we met the goddess that is Kathy bearing tickets at the Viper Room to get our wrists stamped and ready for Sirk [which is, of course, ‘Kris’ spelled backwards].

We had dinner at the Rainbow Bar & Grill – one of my favourites, an 80s throwback of a joint with portions the size of pasta pots and Bon Jovi leering at us from the walls. Its grungy feel was a nice foreshadowing for the future of the evening, even if the majority of us were dressed to the nines and covered in glitter. Clash of the titans – or just a habit of Adam Lambert fans.

Of course, when Kris and his Dirty Minds Blues Explosion came on at midnight, there was no clash—only the commonality that is concert screeching, sing-alongs to ‘Can’t Stay Away’, and cries of ‘yeaahhh, Latin Jesus!’ [forever the moniker of bassist Chris Torres, who looks like… well… a Latin Jesus].

We brought our glitz into a dirty rock show. We gooed over a pink unicorn thrown at Kris and insisted he wear a purple bracelet emblazened with an inside joke. We were giddy and glammed up, and Kris, in turn, gladly brought out the lewd bar girls in us.

He and the band were on fire. Everything was gritty, played-at-gunpoint, whiskey-toned. It made his recorded album sound like fuckin’ Coldplay. It was such a far cry from the radio schtick that has been [erroneously] compared to John Mayer and Jason Mraz. Kris—he has soul. He has swagger. Despite what his useless PR might say.

The whole show was like one big FUCK YOU to that bland public image – right down to having his setlist written on a KOOL cigarette box.

“It’s rock and roll, right?” Kris said. Hell yes.

 I wanted so badly to add to the down-home dirty Southern feel of the show. And be a little ballsy.

So I went up to the bartender. “I’ll have two shots of whiskey. One for me,” I said, “and one for Kris.”

The bartender didn’t blink – just poured the Jack. I waited for the song to end [‘Red Guitar’, can you blame me for taking a break?], then shouldered my way to the stage and raised one glass to Kris.

“Oh, thanks, but I’m good,” he said. I held it up again, questioning the whole band. Kris took the shotglass, offered it to each band member, and Andrew – AKA Hot Guitarist – grabbed the glass and drank like a champ.

I had to thank him after the show. “Sure! Somebody had to do it,” he said. But still.

Shortly after my whiskey shot was passed around [and the band slayed their always-rocking rendition of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’], Kris debuted a new song. A different kind of song. A rootsy, earthy, twelve-bar blues, tentatively titled ‘Shut That Door’.

And let me tell you – it tore the fucking roof off. It made hip-swinging scanties out of bored WeHo bar kids. It left a blues imprint the size of early Elvis that racheted off the walls for the rest of the set – even more clearly in ‘Leave You Alone’ [sad-sack blues at its best] and ‘Come Together’ [Bluesy Beatles? what? but it worked].

It reminded me of seeing people like Tim O’Brien play at bluegrass bars back home. I even felt a crazy sense of Southern pride at the lyrics’ mention of Tennessee.

What? Southern pride? Where have I been?

I mean, I like glitter. But I forgot how much I love dirt.

The post-show party was everything it should have been. Shaking hands on a grimy sidewalk. Sudden thank-yous, signatures for Canadian loves, goofy signs of starstruck bliss. Oh, and Kris.

He is fascinating to me in person because it’s so clear that half his communication is unspoken. He’ll say something with words, but his eyes will say other things. Full of Southern charm, he is. Sweet and relaxed and sleepy.  

He stayed with us for almost an hour, along with the band, taking picture after picture.

Now I’m downloading bluegrass songs on iTunes and contemplating a raid of the ‘Southern Discomfort’ section at Cinefile.  And I’m remembering my childhood: mud days, fossil hunts, fish guts, barbecue, camping, eating beans and watch the Bar D Wranglers tear it up.

Revelation: it is possible to appreciate the respectable bits of Southern culture wihtout drowning in preconceived notions of fascist Republicanism. Kris did that – brought us grungy guitar playing and casual stage banter with none of the obnoxious fundamentalist morals that plague so much of rural America. It was both familiar and new-fangled, both backwater and badass. It made me feel closer to people I’ve never even known.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not about to pack up and move to somebody’s barn. But I’ve rediscovered the glory of grime, and dirt, and LA is plenty dirty – from the smog in the sky to the seedy back alleys.

I just may pull out my brown trucker hat once in a while, or sit around outside in cutoff jeans instead of sparkly leggings.

Thanks, Kris. If I ever buy a cowboy hat or own a chicken, I’m blaming you.


Video courtesy of headonfire1105.
Photos courtesy of http://www.twitter.com/parigi88.

[Public Service Announcement: the band that played right before the Dirty Minds, My Own Holiday, were raucous and raw and rocktastic and FUCKING BRILLIANT. Check them out: http://www.myspace.com/myownholiday%5D

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8 thoughts on “Whiskey Tones: A Southern Ungirl is Bitchslapped by her own Roots.

  1. Thanks for such a wonderful article/perspective. You are so on point. Kris is so talented as a singer/songwriter. He is soulful, passionate and loves to play his music with his band for his fans. It’s so Kris to make the “secret show” happen at the Viper Room for the hard core fans that were wating for months to see him at the LA Fair, myself included. Kris is such a kind soul and respects his fans. The fans at the Viper Room were clearly enjoying Kris’ concert and received more from “Sirk (Kris) & The Dirty Minds” than would have gotten at the Spring Fair. People who are not Kris fans or open to try Kris out continue to promote that dump description of Kris, ” Kris Allen? Isn’t he the boring dude who won American Idol? The married Christian guy? The acoustic singer-songwriter with no personality?” They just don’t know what they are missing. I enjoyed your article and whether we are from the South or not, all Kris Fans are connected by the fact that we enjoy his music, his passion and his soulfulness.

  2. Thank you for your wonderful comments and glad you found your Southern roots again. There was magic in the air! Kris Allen magic! His live performances are always so fun, especially his banter with his band mates and fans. He is so down to earth and makes everyone feel so welcome. I absolutely love his singing and Kris and the band are so tight! We really missed hearing them perform together the past 5 months while Kris is writing songs for his new CD.
    Kris loves his fans and he knew that a lot of people traveled from far away to see him at the LA Springfair, including myself. I had been waiting for that show for the past 2 months and was devastated when I woke up Saturday morning to go to the airport and found out the show was cancelled. I went to LA anyway since we planned to go to Disneyland the day before the show. I was estatic when I found out “Sirk and the Dirty Minds” were going to play on Sunday night at midnite. All of the emotional roller coaster feelings were totally worth it and I really want to thank Kris and crew for making the replacement show happen. We all sure appreciate it!
    I love the new song and have had it on repeat since the show! Can’t wait for his new CD!

  3. You take words and make them your bitch. Narrate my life please.

    Jealous that I missed this so that I could steal that shot of bourbon from Andrew and hug you silly. Oh and get all in Cale’s personal space. I have lots and lots of southern rock you can sink your teeth into if you truly desire.

  4. Spot on review of that evening. Kris is at his best when he is gritty and growly, and singing in his lower register. It’s hard to explain to people who have only heard him on the radio how totally different he is live. He transforms into a old soul, a blues beast, and it’s so much fun to watch.

    I feel like he’s really in his element in dark, smoky clubs. I’d happily see him there over a state fair any day.

    On a side note, you’re a total doll, and I had a blast in our brief time together. 🙂

  5. Gotta say I am not a Kris fan, but I really like this song. I love blues and when the video url was emailed to me I had to take a look. I figured it would not be good but was greatly surprised. This one I will buy.

  6. I love everything about this. Like you, I came to the (semi)big city a long time ago, but the southern girl in me never went away, and not just when I give in to an urge for biscuits and gravy. Kris has a way of representing everything that is good about the south – a laid-back, easy personality, a crooked smile that’s always ready and most of the time looks like he’s up to something, the kind of manners and politeness that make me imagine him tipping a cowboy hat and calling someone “Ma’am.”
    I hoped this Viper Room show – and the name they chose for the night – would bring out Kris’s dirty blues side, because anyone who has seen him live knows it’s there. I’ve been wanting to get him on a stage in a smoky dive for a long time – the Slippery Noodle Inn here in Indy would be my obvious first choice since it’s in my yard. So when the first videos emerged, I was thrilled to see that Kris and the band brought the blues.
    I saw Kris at Valpo last fall, and he blew me away. There was no hint of Mraz that night either, when he and the band turned Kanye into near-metal and improvised Is It Over, already a bluesy ballad, into pure heartbreak. On stage he was sexy, sweaty southern rock n’ roll, and then after the show, spent over an hour just hanging out, chatting with fans, being the sweet, friendly, polite boy his mama no doubt brought him up to be.
    I’m so happy you got to see the Viper Room show, and that it brought you back to a different perspective on your roots. And if they over-produce his next album and clean it up and sanitize the dirt out of Sirk and the Dirty Minds, we’re gonna have to get together and drown our sorrows in a bottle of Jack.

    • Glad to hear KA fans are strong in Indy. Same here! Went to Valpo to see Kris – also Chicago w/BNL and State Fair w/Keith. Good post! I would love to see Kris play at a local club in Indy!

  7. Woo Pig Sooie!!! Great way to describe that night. And I love the use of my pictures! One of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. And Kris is such a sweetheart, he even helped the Viper dudes carry away the barricades at the very end of the night. What a true Southern Gentleman. Shut That Door Baby!

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