Friday, July 28, 2023

The Highballers light up Greenbelt on a stormy night

I haven’t seen my friend Kendall’s band The Highballers much lately (though not for lack of opportunities; they play a lot of shows around D.C.), but I went with my wife and my friends Kevin and Megan tonight to Greenbelt, a little town in Maryland envisioned by FDR as the first intentional community. Once there, and secure from the raging heat storm outside, we stepped in the see the band in a great little concert room behind the New Deal Cafe. 

As Kendall said, the place always gives him "a real good vibe," and indeed there was a good mix of newbies like us and regulars. The place felt like if there were a bar and restaurant (tasty BBQ) at the cohousing community where we used to live in Silver Spring, Eastern Village Cohousing. Funky, fun, intelligent people all around just enjoying their time on Earth.

The Highballers have consistently gotten tighter and better. The whole band really seems committed and they played a lengthy and pleasurable set of covers and mostly originals. While Kendall and Belen traded off amazing harmonizing vocals throughout the country set (the good kind of country, it should go without noting), with such highlights as “I Didn't Mean to Get Drunk Last Night But I Did,” my favorite might have been “Older Guys,” a Gram Parsons tune covered later by Teenage Fanclub and made to sound like an Uncle Tupelo country-punk rager by The Highballers.

Kendall reminded us that it had been 10 years since we celebrated the band's album release at the time at the old Iota in Arlington, Va. Here was what I wrote about that album at the time, in my Best New Albums of January 2013 column:

The Highballers - Soft Music and Hard Liquor

My son was in the process of getting married to The Highballers' showman-leader Kendall's daughter in their preschool class. That would have made this review a conflict of interest, but luckily it was clean-up time and the kids were unable to comlete the ceremony. Regardless, I saw this band live at Arlington's Artisphere and they were a force. It's easy to compare them to an offshoot of Johnny Cash and June Carter (what with the boy-girl vocals and all), but The Highballers are much funnier, have smoking and tasteful musicianship all around, have lots of songs about drinking (which is, let's admit, the point of honky tonk), and gloriously adds a modern twist ala Uncle Tupelo and The Bottle Rockets.

So they be improving (or just consumate musicianship-ers), but they are also clearly just naturals. Oh, and our kids may not be married yet, but they are still friends. 

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