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Spontaneous and Flammable

Southern Culture on the Skids head for Fourth Avenue

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When I first heard Southern Culture on the Skids back in the early 1990s, I just didn't get them. Sure, I dug the North Carolina-based trio's outrageous, raw, rhythm 'n' grits style of dyed-roots rock, but so many bands have gone through similar phases, I initially doubted the band's sincerity on such down-and-dirty albums as For Lovers Only, Ditch Diggin' and Dirt Track Date.

The band's name as manifesto-in-miniature and its thematic embrace of all things white trash--from lyrics about chicken and biscuits to bassist-singer Mary Huff's gargantuan beehive wigs--made me suspicious, too. The whole package seemed so trendily arch, at the same time catering to the audiences who liked the corn-pone humor of Jeff Foxworthy.

But I had forsaken Southern Culture on the Skids for too long. Somewhere along the line, I realized the band is the real thing, not hipsters gone slumming. True, sweaty, swamp-rockin' trashabilly nirvana is contained on SCOTS albums from the late 1990s and early 21st century, works such as Plastic Seat Sweat, Liquored Up and Lacquered Down and the 2004 opus Mojo Box.

Southern Culture on the Skids has proven itself to be an honest-to-goodness rowdy rock 'n' roll band that doesn't have to ask if you might be a redneck--these folks know we all are, in one way or another. They celebrate a special strain of rootsy Americana, coming on like The Cramps' cousins, playing revved-up hillbilly twang, mangy blues testifying, trailer trash R&B, funky garage rock, joie-de-vivre punk, Tex-Mex grooves and rockabilly surf music.

And in singer-guitarist Rick Miller, SCOTS boasts a genuine guitar hero, the missing link connecting Dick Dale, the Rev. Horton Heat, Link Wray and Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen. The guy's a stone-cold genius in hell-yeah proportions--mixing, producing, writing songs and strangling strings for nearly two decades.

The statuesque Huff is a tall, cool drink of water--even under those wigs--who can sultrily sing her tail off and keeps the bottom tight. And drummer Dave Hartman maintains the furious devil rhythms of the SCOTS sound.

Perhaps the most convincing evidence that Southern Culture on the Skids are the real deal are their live performances, which show off the band's immediate, urgent appeal. Finally, a brand-spankin' new live CD, Doublewide and Live, on Yep Roc Records, captures that fire. Recorded in front of rabid fans over a three-night stand in late 2004 at the nightclub Local 506 in Chapel Hill, N.C., this is SCOTS spontaneous and flammable.

Which is pretty much what we can expect when Southern Culture on the Skids plays at Plush on Thursday, Sept. 21. The Detroit-based garage band The Paybacks will open the show.

Unfortunately, Miller and I played phone tag for the better part of a week, trying to complete an interview. Deadlines came and went, and we never hooked up.

But the latest SCOTS press release includes some of Miller's always-colorful comments about the atmosphere at Local 506; they inadvertently serve as a charming treatise on the nature of a bona fide rock 'n' roll experience:

"Dumps and dives, those hole-in-the-wall juke joints, have always been special places to me. These are the cribs where rock 'n' roll was born and still lives. Yeah, the place may smell like a beer-filled ashtray and be asshole-to-elbow with a 200-person capacity that feels like it's 100 over fire code, but I ask you: Where else can you see a drop of sweat run down the singer's face and drip off his nose without watching it on a giant TV monitor? Where else is the audience and the band separated by inches--not yards--and the stage is too small for distracting light shows and pointless dance routines? Where else can you feel the music jump off the stage, bounce its rowdy restless energy off the walls and then sink into your hips?"

From the lovely soulful crackle of Miller's and Huff's duet on "Whole Lotta Things," to the off-the-hook mutant surf-rock extravaganza of "The Wet Spot," to the triple entendres "Banana Pudding" and "Ditch Diggin'," Doublewide and Live is a priceless document of the immediacy of the rock 'n' roll experience. Southern Culture on the Skids and its new CD prove that you don't have to play Budokan to be a legendary live band.

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