“How ya’ll doing this evening? We’re a long way from home. Let’s make this shit count.” Jesse Dayton is back in town and if any doubts lingered that he’d be able to deliver tonight they were swiftly assuaged, with the smiles on the faces of the audience around 11pm testimony to the fact that his trio had blown into London like a tornado, delivering a super charged set of punk and country-infused Americana.
In a performance fairly reliant on last album, ‘The Revealer’ and his latest, ‘The Outsider’ they open with ‘Daddy Was A Badass,’ a hard edged, rambunctious number about how his father had returned from the Vietnam war a broken man, the song demonstrating that Dayton is as every bit as bad ass as any of his forebears. It’s swiftly followed by the 1-2 punch of ‘Holy Ghost Rock ‘n’ Roller,’ the song infused with the spirit of Jerry Lee and Little Richard, a high octane, country-tinged rockabilly number that has the audience at the Lexington rocking.
Jesse Dayton’s influences are many and varied, the outlaw country sounding ‘The Way That We Are’ preceded by a tale about how when most of his contemporaries were trying to copy Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dayton took instead to watching 10,000 hours (“as they say in the Outliers book”) of the American variety show, Hee Haw – until he could do an impeccable impression of Jerry Reed – and it was this that eventually landed him the gig with Waylon Jennings, and subsequent spots with the likes of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.
“Doing that monkey grinder bit for the new record – selling that snake oil” is by way of introduction to the bluesy sounding ‘May Have to Do It (Don’t Have to Like It)’ from the new album, which features a call and response section at the end. Characterising tonight’s event as the equivalent of “a big white trash, dysfunctional family reunion” while his own trio he describes as “a weird white trash 3 way marriage” he’s reminded by an audience member of such an arrangement: “That ain’t weird.”
A further story is his recounting about how Dayton was raised by a 74 year old nanny, a creole black woman born in 1897 who taught him how to speak Cajun and turned him onto blues players like Lighting Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb so that by the time he went to school he was a funky assed white boy. His dedication to her, ‘Mrs Victoria (A Beautiful Thing)’ is a deeply heartfelt song, with some nicely slowed down slide guitar playing. “That’s as sentimental as we’re going to get tonight. It’s all cheating and drinking songs from here out” he announces at the end. In truth, there’s more thought and subtlety at work here, Dayton wearing his learning lightly on his sleeve – conveying the fact that he’d read all of Sam Shepherd’s plays, the latter provided the inspiration for his son’s name.
He manages to throw in a few cover songs for good measure as well. We get a hip shaking version of Slim Harpo’s ‘Hip Shake Baby,’ Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Pancho and Lefty’ and Nick Lowe’s ‘Lately I’ve Let Things Slide,’ Dayton reckoning that he was the only person from Beaumont Texas to have ever heard of him.
‘Possum Ran Over My Grave’ is a story song that gives him the opportunity to demonstrate his considerable vocal prowess. It’s a number about the night when as a youngster he went to see George Jones, only for the country legend not to show because he got drunk on the tour bus and never made it out. On his second attempt at seeing him when Dayton was age 7, Jones arrived on stage in what could only be described as a “Tom Jones country pimp looking outfit from the ‘70s.” With drink in hand, Jones proceeded to pass out on stage, but later recovered to deliver what Dayton considers the best vocal performance he’s ever witnessed.
Other highlights are the trio’s Banjo & Sullivan rendition of ‘I’m At Home Gettin’ Hammered (While She’s Out Gettin’ Nailed), along with the Cajun rockabilly of ‘Hurtin’ Behind the Pine Curtain’ and ‘Sippin’ Corn Shine.’ It’s an understatement to say that Dayton is more than ably assisted by his buddies, Chris Rhodes on the double bass and Kevin Charney on the drums. The trio play with great intensity, while Dayton himself comes across as not unlike a super charged, punkified Chris Isaak on steroids, his guitar tone having echoes of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates at their best. The boy from Beaumont done good.
Earlier on, Norton Money showed how they’re improving all the time, delivering a fantastic set of harmony driven alternative-americana songs drawn from their 2017 album, ‘The Ballad of Hi & Low.’ Highly recommended.
Special thanks to David Handley for use of his photos from the night.