I believe I've seen Farmer Not So John five times in Baton Rouge. The first time was when they opened for Iris Dement. Then I saw them open for Blue Mountain, and now I've seen them open for Soul Hat twice.
I'm fairly certain that this is the first time they've played in Baton Rouge since the release of their second album, Receiver. They were scheduled to perform shortly after its release in early 1998, but due to personnel changes, that show was canceled. It was high time for them to return to Huey P. Long's town.
Bassist Brian Ray left the band after recording the new album due to the good ol' "artistic differences." What these were about, I don't want to speculate on. Sean Keith, FNSJ's drummer, left due to family obligations--the birth of his child.
So this performance at the Varsity was their first since the new album and the first with the new lineup. I certainly expected things to be different, and they were. First off, they certainly looked different than they did in November of 1997. Richard McLaurin's hair was longer...or at least different. I didn't even recognize him when he ordered a drink at the bar before going on. I thought to myself, "I should recognize that guy...who is he?" Mack Linebaugh's hair was shorter--incredibly shorter.
Looks aside, the sound was all FNSJ. First out of the block were three songs from Receiver, "Grand Bouquet," "For You I Will Pretend," and "Fuse." All pleased the relatively small crowd that had gathered for Soul Hat and a few of us in front who had obviously come to hear Farmer Not So John.
Linebaugh took a break to introduce the new members of the band, pointing out that they hadn't been back to Baton Rouge since the change in lineup, as he said "due to circumstances beyond our control." The drummer's name was Jonathan, and unfortunately, I wasn't paying close enough attention to catch the bassist's name.
To my surprise, the next song was a Brian Ray song. At least, it is credited to him on their first album. "Rusty Weathervane" clearly was familiar to several people at the front. Next up was a new one to me. It was intriguing because of the change from quiet parts to louder ones. I caught a glimpse of the set list on the stage, and it was apparently entitled "Wild Eye."
For the next song, McLaurin pulled out the good old lap slide guitar for a FNSJ classic that really got the die-hards at the front singing along. It certainly is one of my favorites: "Every Street In Nashville." Back to the regular electric for the next song, though. "Undertow" is recognizable to me every time because the start always reminds me of a Don Williams song for some reason. I couldn't help but think that this time the guitars weren't loud enough for it though.
There was an interesting effect on McLaurin's guitar for the start of the start-off song for Receiver, "Paperthin." It was a sort of echo that I sort of hear on the album as I re-listen to it, but certainly more pronounced at the Varsity. It really was a great performance of the song. "Paperthin" was followed by a song that was new to me, "Corrupted," followed by another Receiver song "No Time To Please You."
Linebaugh asked the audience if they had any requests. Shouts of "Cradled" and "Fire In The Valley" among maybe a couple others came from the audience. "Who wrote those?" he asked. Instead, with Linebaugh on electric, they proceeded with "Meriwether," a song they played at their last show in Baton Rouge, but which doesn't appear on either album. It's a good song, and I hope we'll see it released in the future. Perhaps it will always stay a "live" song, though.
Mack switched back to acoustic for their last number, and as usual, they left the Varsity with a bang! In the past, they've ended with "Farmer John (...I'm in love with your daughter)" a rousing, rockin' number that really gets the house moving. This time it was ELO's "Can't Get It Out of My Head." Wow, what a great song, outstanding energetic performance with a lot of the crowd singing along. A musician friend of mine who arrived to see Soul Hat commented as I was leaving (before Soul Hat came on) how it was a great version of that song.
A little less country than usual, I think. The lap steel only came out once. They didn't seem as energetic as they've been in the past, but perhaps it was the long trip from Dallas the night before. The new musicians seem to have fit themselves into the band musically, but didn't really seem to "get into it" the way Ray and Keith used to. Still, another great show by Farmer Not So John at the Varsity. The time between shows was much too long, and I think they may have lost the small but growing audience that was building in the city for them. I hope next time it won't be so long, (and that my postcard from them will arrive before the day of as it did this time). FNSJ is a band that deserves more attention, and I hope they get it.
Review written 24 January 1999.
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