Watching Lubbock, Texas native Joe Ely and his slide guitarist, Jeff Plankenhorn, ease through a folksy set the night after observing the American Music Awards was like taking the sort of outdoor shower they take in Irish Spring commercials, where the water somehow rains down from the trees while people dance and drink a few feet away, and you cut your own soap with a hunting knife. Whereas on Sunday, Christina Aguilera's dress managed to make her look like a halogen sausage and reveal her left areola, Ely reminded us how much the ground has shifted here on planet earth.
"Used to be, people looked suspiciously on writers, poets, musicians and actors," Ely told a full room of adoring onlookers. "Now they look suspiciously on priests, Boy Scout leaders and football coaches."
One suspects Ely, of Flatlanders (his supergroup with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock) fame, can still raise a fair amount of hell at his advanced age. But Monday night being Monday night, he was in pure storyteller mode, singing "I'm Gonna Live Forever" in honor of outlaw troubadour Billy Joe Shaver's "indictment into the country music hall of fame." (He may have said "inducted," but "indicted" is funnier, considering Shaver's renegade past.) Until you hear musicians like Ely and Plankenhorn, their guitars blatantly influenced by south-of-the-border sounds, it's easy to forget that Texas, despite all its anti-immigrant bluster, is where sombreros and ten-gallons tend to melt into one. Witness Ely's performance of "She Never Spoke Spanish to Me," the tale of a Texan falling hard for a Mexican beauty who would never let him all the way into her life.
In tracing back to the Flatlanders' roots, Ely spoke of the influence of another Texan, Buddy Holly, on their music. But with only two guitars onstage and a set that also included laid-back renditions of "Not That Much Has Changed," "Streets of Sin" and "The Highway Is My Home," the bespectacled legend was left to his rest, doubtless recharging for when Ely swings through town on a Friday night with a full band in tow. While Monday may have marked Ely's chat by the fireplace, it's only a matter of time before it's doused in lighter fluid.