Whiskey Shivers - Birnam Arts

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As I try to find a parking space outside the Birnam Arts centre, I notice a man sporting the best mullet seen in this country since Charlie Nicholas played for Scotland. The man is attempting to roll a cigarette against a lamppost and his flip-flop-clad feet look a little bit out of place on the snow-smattered Perthshire pavement.  I take a wild punt, "I guess you are with the band."  He extends a hand, "what gave me away?" he replies in a thick southern accent.  He is Bobby Fitzgerald, fiddle player and lead singer in alt-country band Whiskey Shivers. 

Hailing from Austin, Texas this five-piece play a unique blend that is one part American roots music, mixed with equal parts punk and rock n' roll.  They call it 'Gangsta-grass'.  If you have ever had the good fortune to catch the amazing hillbilly band, Hayseed Dixie, then you'll know how much fun this type of music can be to witness live. However, the Hayseed boys are primarily known as a covers bands.  Whereas, the bulk of Whiskey Shivers set is made up of original material.

As the band take to the stage the first thing I notice is that they are all barefoot.  "Are you trying to catch frostbite?", one of the Birnam audience shouts out.  They launch into a set that is loaded with songs that fans (and there are a fair few in the audience) will recognise from their latest album, 'Some Part of Something'.  Not least of which is the killer single, 'F**k Y*u', which proves the theory that there is no song that can't be improved by a few well-placed f-bombs.  Think Neil Young's 'Why Do I Keep F**king Up?", Peaches 'F**ck the Pain Away' or, if you have to, Smokeys 'Living Next Door to Alice'.  'F**k Y*u' is a cynical, anti-love song, beautifully sung by Banjo player James Bookert, and featuring pitch-perfect if foul-mouthed, harmonies from the rest of the band.

It's like Earl Scruggs and Jimi Hendrix had a baby and raised him on a diet of trip-hop.Also impressing from the new album is 'Cluck O' Hen' which features a cracking, unwavering, beat from percussionist/drummer James Gwyn.  It also features some pretty trippy banjo as James breaks out the pedalboard to stunning effect.  It's like Earl Scruggs and Jimi Hendrix had a baby and raised him on a diet of trip-hop.  'Cluck O' Hen' also gives Bobby a chance to play some choppy, syncopated fiddle and channel his inner Kurt Cobain, with a rousing vocal performance.  

Although the majority of tonights set is made of original material, the guys don't eschew covers entirely.  The Cure's 'Friday, I'm in Love' gets the bluegrass treatment, resulting in a version that's so high-octane that it would even have the king of goths himself, Robert Smith, dancing on the tables.  As well as some spirited lead guitar from Jeff 'Horti' Hortillosa, it also featured some amazing high pitched Geddy Lee-esque backing vocals.

WHISKY SHIVERS REVIEW- James BookertAs good as they are at the faster numbers, it is in their quieter moments that  The Texas Fivesome really show what they are made of.  It really sends shivers up your spine when Bobby almost laments, 'I've got sins no one can see, they've got wings and follow me', then begs 'Would you pray for me?'  The song of the evening for me though is Jealous Heart, from the 2012 album Rampa Head. The washboard beat and fiddle melody of the intro puts me in mind of 'Silver Raven', the best song from the best album you have never heard, Gene Clarke's 'No Other'.  A great boom tikka bassline courtesy of Jesse on the double bass and another round of sweet harmonies from all the guys.

Whiskey Shivers go down like gangbusters with the Perthshire audience, and soon folk are up and dancing to a blistering mash-up of Iron Maiden's 'The Trooper' and The Dixie Chicks feminist murder tale 'Goodbye Earl'.  The show comes to an end with an encore that finds the band jumping down from the stage and playing two songs unplugged amongst the audience.  It's an intimate performance that is a real down-home ending to a night of entertainment that mixes thrilling, frenetic bluegrass with tender and heartfelt moments like this.

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