Hayes Carll is in a pretty good place right now. His new album ‘What It Is’ is a triumphant return to form following two releases which some considered somewhat flat. In addition, at the start of an eight date tour of the UK in Manchester, he had some news to impart as he announced that just three days earlier he had married his partner, Alison Moorer. This news was greeted with cheering and applause, something that was to be repeated regularly as the evening unfolded.
Opening up with ‘Wild as a Turkey’ from his 2008 LP ‘Trouble In Mind’ Carll played his strongest hand by taking the majority of the evening’s set from that album and from his latest release. He played only one song from each of the two intervening albums. So, armed with a great setlist and his engaging personality, the imposing figure of Hayes Carll set about entertaining the decent sized crowd. Interspersing his songs with some quirky humour, his anecdotes and stories very quickly had his audience entranced and enthralled. New songs like ‘None’Ya’ a reference to his new wife’s accent and ‘Jesus and Elvis’ which is about a bar in Austin, Texas, fitted in seamlessly alongside older favourites ‘Bad Liver and a Broken Heart’ and ‘Drunken Poet’s Dream’. A story about Ray Wylie Hubbard supplying him with the quote “He gets it” for his press pack, only for him to then find exactly the same quote in Slaid Cleaves’s press pack, drew particular laughter.
The most magical live experiences are always those where the audience feel that the artist is enjoying themselves as much as they are. This was one of those nights. Hayes spoke warmly and genuinely about his host city for the evening and the venue, which he described as “one of my favourites, anywhere”. He talked too about previous visits to the city, all of which added to a close rapport with his audience. This culminated in him playing “something we’ve not done for a while now” explaining that the tongue-in-cheek humour of ‘She Left Me For Jesus’ wasn’t always appreciated elsewhere, but that “I think you folks get it”. Just to prove that point, the audience sang heartily along.
At the end of the night everyone left with a smile on their face. They ‘got it’ and if you like your country music with a large dash of irony, humour and the occasional more poignant note, then you will ‘get it’ too. As Hayes Carll chatted and signed merchandise after the show, he couldn’t hide his own broad smile. Just as his audience get him, he equally, gets his audience.
Travis Linville, who also doubled as Hayes Carll’s guitarist opened up the evening with a short, but high quality set. Linville has released four albums in the last nine years. On this evidence he certainly warrants further investigation.