At first blush, Bill Kirchen at Joe’s Pub sounds like a reasonable proposition if you don’t know Bill Kirchen or Joe’s Pub. Kirchen, one of the best guitar players alive today and unchallenged master of the Texas/rockabilly/trucker song/biker bar genre rarely plays in bars any more, but it’s conceivable. Joe’s Pub, one of the most sophisticated rooms in New York City, does not qualify as a bar: named for Joseph Papp, the founder of the not-for-profit Public Theater and the man who brought Shakespeare to Central Park, Joe’s Pub remains one of the more sophisticated supper clubs in a world-class city. Nevertheless, it was an inspired booking.
Backed by bass and drums, Kirchen ripped through his Telecaster treats, from his classics back in his Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen days (“Too Much Fun”) through his many solo projects over the years, and into his latest album, which highlights not only his axe, vocals and whistling chops, but his sharp sense of humor. “Womb to the Tomb,” from his latest CD, Seeds and Stems, shows off many of his recurring themes besides weed: trucks (“I was broke down, dead in the water on Highway 10”), humor (“with a truckload of frozen fish filets, learning to swim again”), sex (there was a sweet little honey, but she don’t like the money, and you’re missing her sweet perfume) and death (I’m here to help with your run from the womb to the tomb”).
Kirchen ripped through “Hot Rod Lincoln,” updated to include famous guitar riffs from every modern-day axe-slinger and a few outliers like Billy Jean King (in a guitar jam? Kirchen makes it work.), and ended with a tune from another writer with a sense of humor, Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” a perfect choice to end the evening. We sipped the last of our sophisticated cocktails, gave a last look at the beautiful room with the perfect sound system, and considered ourselves lucky.
– Suzanne Cadgene