Jackie CancholaJunior Brown played Neumos on Tuesday, January 5.A funny thing happened

Jackie CancholaJunior Brown played Neumos on Tuesday, January 5.A funny thing happened on the way to and from Junior Brown’s last night–I heard Dire Straits “Money For Nothing”, first on 102.5 KZOK and later on 95.7 FM. I figured there had to be a reason for this, and it dawned on me…Junior Brown and Straits’ frontman Mark Knopfler are sort of guitar-kin. Both have absorbed practically all of the styles ever conceived on their respective instruments, and both have worshipped at the altar of all the great players who came before them. And while all those influences are obvious in their performances, they still sound inimitable. When Junior Brown strode out on stage at Neumos last night, his celebrated cherry-red “guit-steel” hybrid was propped up on its stand, awaiting his embrace. The crowd was too, and it was apparent that they would love him before he even played a lick. Beneath his also-celebrated white cowboy hat, Brown breezed through a set of old familiars and random covers. His baritone croon tugged at the hearts of some women in the audience, who squealed lightly as he wound certain songs down to end on some very…ve-e-e-e-ery…loo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ow…n-o-o-o-o-otes. As for the dudes, in the audience, they were there to watch their hero show off, which is what Junior Brown does best. This isn’t a slight either, but rather an appreciation for that long-lost art of showmanship. And by this, I’m not referring to freak-shows like The Flaming Lips or KISS. No, I’m talking about watching a man who is so familiar with his instrument and so comfortable in what he does, that he can’t help but impress a crowd with his abilities. He blew seamlessly through “Long Walk Back To San Antone” and his famous “Highway Patrol”, then veered into Hawaiian territory, then into an Albert King blues instrumental, before heading into a rockabilly region so campy it was more Elvis in Vegas than Carl Perkins. But what’s interesting about Brown is that, despite his obvious nods to the cheesier realms of Americana and despite his incredible wit, he seems to know when to reign it in–right when he’s perched on the cliff before slipping into cartoonish caricature. He’s like Roger Miller in that sense. Junior ended with a medley, replete with fiery harmonics and blazing licks that made one wonder what The Ventures would’ve been like with Hendrix in the band.