It’s a rare thing to genuinely like both acts at a show. Typically, one band will have more energy, better songs, better musicians, more friends present, etc. But Saturday night’s performance by Thomas Wynn and the Believers and Dirty Names at Mercury Lounge was an exception. Both bands were not only talented and very good live, but all of their songs were memorable, prompting new fans in the crowd to start singing along midway through.
Thomas Wynn and the Believers opened the early show with a rousing set of bluesy, no-frills Southern rock. Taking a page from the Allman Brothers/Neil Young/The Band playbook, Wynn’s songs ran the gamut - from foot-stompers like “You Can’t Hurt Me” and “Brothers & Sisters,” to so-soulful-it-hurts slow burners like “I Don’t Regret” and “LifeLine Woman.” Matched perfectly with his sister Olivia’s soaring vocals, Wynn could be the heir apparent to John Fogerty's throne. He’s certainly got the vocal talent and guitar skills for it.
One of the unexpected treats of the Believers’ set was harmonica player Chris Bell, who might as well be the Van Gogh of the blues harp. Emotive and passionate, Bell ripped through solos like a hurricane, all the while conjuring up images of the Deep South: humid swamps, sunsets sitting under oak trees, mosquitos buzzing in your ear during the worst part of August. It’s not often you get the opportunity to listen to someone with such total command of the harmonica; my only wish was that Bell would have been featured even more.
The headliners, Dirty Names, jumped onstage just a short while later and then something truly magical happened: the crowd started dancing. Not headbanging, not tapping their feet along or bobbing their heads politely, but really dancing. The Names sound a bit like the Rolling Stones-via-Chuck Berry-via-The Kinks which by some rock miracle doesn’t come off sounding dated. Instead, the raucous joy was palpable on songs like “Don’t Try Making a Move,” which inspired many (myself included) to do the twist. It was a bit like being at Turkey Point from “Cry-Baby”, which, with all the booty-popping of the new millennium, felt downright refreshing.
All of the Names lads were consummate showmen. Frontman Harrison Cofer, complete with a Marc Bolan-worthy halo of tousled curls, commanded the stage with nary a falter in his singing or playing. Guitarist Kit Whitacre tore up his corner of the stage a la Angus Young, while drummer Matt Rose and bassist Sam Wettreau supplied the hip-shaking, raunchy undercurrent that made songs like "Pootle Head" positively reek with innuendo. It was all exciting - and more importantly fun, something that seems to be missing in most rock these days. Sure, it might not be the most intellectually music in the world, but on a Saturday night, whiskey in hand, who really wants to be serious?