Jason And The Scorchers Burn Down Country's Roots

Group plays songs from new live set, Midnight Roads & Stages Seen.

NEW YORK -- The more country sacrilege Jason and the Scorchers commit, the better they are.

Proof of that came in the opening seconds of the Scorchers' recent show at a half-full Tramps, as vocalist Jason Ringenberg rushed on stage in a black cowboy shirt and shit-kickin' boots.

From inside a 10-gallon hat his friendly, guttural Southern drawl was heard, belting out ... a rock 'n' roll song.

A blistering version of "Self-Sabotage" (RealAudio excerpt), from the 1996 album Clear Impetuous Morning, opened the Scorchers' set on May 1, just as it opens their new, two-disc live collection, Midnight Roads & Stages Seen.

It's not surprising to hear unadulterated rock 'n' roll from four guys who've been praised by the likes of Billy Ray Cyrus and Deanna Carter.

Clad in a T-shirt and jeans, bearded, long-haired guitarist Warner Hodges looked and played like he might have spent time in both the Replacements and Alabama. Drummer Perry Baggs, with his mussy hair and boyish looks, could moonlight in a glam band somewhere. And new bassist Kenny Ames wouldn't look too out of place in Garth Brooks' band.

Still, when Ringenberg wears a cowboy hat, he ain't fakin' it.

He came close to country on the slower songs, such as "Ocean of Doubt" and "My Heart Still Stands With You," both from 1986's Still Standing.

Contemplative moments never lasted long, however, because the Scorchers couldn't help but do bad things to country classics such as Jimmie Rodgers' "Last Blue Yodel," running it through a blender and juicing it with the past 20 years of punk and rock.

All the while, Hodges scooted back and forth at his spot on stage right, spinning his guitar wildly around his body whenever he got the chance, grinning as if he knew damn well he was making moves once reserved for heavy-metal hair bands.

The Scorchers leaned heavily on songs more than a decade old, knocking out a burning version of "White Lies" (1984) and "Both Sides of the Line," co-written by Ringenberg and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe in 1983.

Those songs were the sort of things Hodges had referred to backstage before the show. Explaining why the group had been pariahs in Nashville in the mid-'80s, he said, "We were doing bad things to country music."

But all that has changed, and Hodges said the country music establishment now acknowledges the Scorchers' contributions as if they never were Nashville outcasts. "In 1982, '83, we were revolutionary," he said. "Now we're not revolutionary. I'd just like to think we're relevant."

Fan Laura Kane of Manhattan wasn't bothered by the band's lack of country purity. "They're rock 'n' roll, but they have their feet firmly planted in Nashville," she said, knowing full well it's the Scorchers' country/rock/punk miscegenation that makes them tick.