It was gratifying to see a good-sized crowd gather tonight in the Stygian gloom of The Hug & Pint, a place our headliner liked to an SF dive joint from the seventies, “Probably called something like The Manhole,” he quipped as he peered from the stage trying to see the audience at the start of the show. Some might argue that a dive bar is the best place to see Stuart as he still has a sneering punk quality and anti establishment attitude which would not sit well in a well upholstered swish venue and I’d say that tonight’s show was probably the best he’s put on in his recent visits to Glasgow.
The night kicked off with a whip smart version of ‘Vicious’ from Stuart and Tom Heyman, a riposte perhaps to a critic who had complained that ‘Name Hog’ (from Stuart’s album, ‘Marlowe’s Revenge’) was a rip off, or perhaps it’s just that the guys dig Lou Reed. Whatever, it was a grand start to the night and somehow just right for the venue which had the front row of the audience just inches from the performers with one particularly exuberant fan almost having a one to one conversation with Stuart, a situation which Stuart handled with diplomacy and grace.
‘Vicious’ done and dusted, Stuart handed the stage to Heyman who played an excellent set with many of the songs plucked from his recent album, ‘Show Business Baby’. For an album which celebrates the heyday of pop and punk rock (invented by Americans said Heyman, citing NRBQ and The Flamin’ Groovies) he was able to capture the thrust and drive of the pumped up songs using only his acoustic guitar. The audience were easily cajoled into singing the chorus to ‘Out West’ while on ‘Baby, Let Me In’ he captured the infectious riff and the snarly voice of the recorded version with ease while ‘Etch A Sketch’ bounced out from the stage as if we had Graham Parker or Elvis Costello sitting in front of us. There was also a riveting delivery of Heyman’s ‘Chickenhawks and Jesus Freaks’, a song which sums up a stained version of the American dream. Finally, there was a heartfelt message to the audience decrying the current arsehole in the White House, followed by a supreme version of ‘Vigilante Man’, Heyman’s slide guitar cutting through all the bullshit that flows from Pennsylvania Avenue these days.
Heyman remained on stage to play with Stuart on his set which again concentrated on his most recent album. ‘Love & Danger’ was the intro, a slouching beast of a song with portents of menace followed by the thrusting ‘The Joke’s On Me’ before Stuart reached into his broken past on ‘Why I Ever Married You’. With Heyman’s guitar adding nuance to the songs, sad, angry or just plain all over the place, the pair were a perfect combination. ‘Gringo Go Home’ and ‘Last Century Blues’ were akin to Warren Zevon’s posts from the front line, the former having an almost Pekinpah quality to it and Pekinpah came to mind again when the duo sang ‘The Day William Holden Died’. Of course, the crowd were hoping to have some of the old Green On Red songs played and Stuart addressed this with ‘Zombie For Love’ and, somewhat of a rarity, ‘Old Chief’, while also singing about his love/hate relationship with Tucson on the song, ‘Tucson’. It was all great stuff but Stuart also alluded to the current political climate, referring several times to “The United Snakes of America” while he also sang his version of what he said was, “The best song written this century,” R. B. Morris’ ‘That’s How Every Empire Falls.’
At the end of the night we were in no doubt as to this pair’s political opinions but this was just the topping on the cake as Stuart jousted and parried with the audience and, with his excellent sidekick Heyman, took us on an emotional and visceral journey. The word legend is bandied about far too often these days but within the closeted world of country rock (Stuart doesn’t approve of the term, Americana), Dan Stuart is as close to one you can get nowadays.