Listings are in the opposite order of appearance: headliner is listed at the top, next is the support band(s), and the last band listed is the opener.
Wednesday March 30
8:00PM doors -- music at 8:30PM
••• 21 AND OVER
$15 in advance / $18 at the door
Sarah Shook & the Disarmers
Secret Emchy Society
Josiah Y Flores
Sarah Shook & the Disarmers
-from Chapel Hill, NC
-“I’m starting to realize that being an outlier and a weirdo––it doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” says Sarah Shook. Shook pauses, then adds with a grin, “It can be whatever you want it to be.”
Shook is home in North Carolina, talking about Nightroamer, the hotly anticipated new album from their band, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers. Backed by white-knuckle playing from Eric Peterson on guitar, Aaron Oliva on upright bass, drummer Jack Foster, and Adam Kurtz on pedal steel, Shook has pulled from Hank Williams, Elliott Smith, the Sex Pistols, and Shook’s own inquisitive, open, outlying self to create pop-savvy, honky-tonk punk that’s both an escape and a reality check––a re-opened wound and a balm. Relationships and life-changing realizations are dissected with honesty and humor, three tight minutes at a time.
“Where is the handbook for relationships that isn’t just how to keep your man around for 20 years?” Shook says, “Where is the offbeat situational relationship handbook? I feel like a lot of what I write is that––and most of the time, I don’t have the answers. I’m just asking the questions that we’re all asking.”
When Sarah Shook & The Disarmers released Sidelong four years ago, the irreverent quintet’s debut turned heads around the world. Then 2018’s follow-up Years hooked everyone from Rolling Stone to Vice. “This ain’t no country for hipsters or posers,” said No Depression. “It’s real, raw, mean-and-evil-bad-and-nasty bidness.” Then, the first two albums turned into a tease: The pandemic shut down the world, just as The Disarmers finished recording Nightroamer in Los Angeles. The band has had to sit on the album––until now.
Nightroamer is worth the wait. This is still a band whose recordings beg to be heard live, either in a punk-rock hole in the wall or honky-tonk roadhouse. Shook’s voice is crystalline––but boozy, too, with a cadence that sounds comfortable resting in the pocket before lagging, jumping, or cozying up to the offbeat. What initially may feel like a slip is actually a stroke––and listeners cannot get enough.
Shook is also a visible, vocal member of communities often relegated to societal margins. Out as bisexual since they were 19, Shook recently came out as nonbinary as well. For Shook, openness about their identity––as well as struggles including depression and addiction––is just as much about self-preservation as it is offering an outstretched hand. “When I talk about mental health issues, recovery, and addiction, it’s because I feel like life is too short to keep the good things we learn along the way to ourselves,” Shook says. “I think we each have a responsibility to share information that can transform lives in a literal, palpable sense.”
For Shook, it turns out that being honest is both liberating and an obligation. It’s also a form of therapy the rest of us can sing, scream, or two-step to.
Produced by Pete Anderson, Nightroamer is the confident next step fans hoped The Disarmers could take. “I think this record is different than ones we’ve done in the past. It feels every bit as expansive as I wanted it to feel,” says Shook. “I didn’t want there to be a shocking, jarring difference, but I definitely wanted it to feel like things are opening up. It’s a bigger feeling experience.”
Album opener “Somebody Else” slinks and jangles as Shook faces a grim truth. Recognition and frustration go toe to toe over thick electric guitar and pedal steel. “I was in a series of monogamous relationships that were incredibly unhealthy, emotionally and verbally abusive,” says Shook. “I had a revelation about myself, but I also had a revelation about abusers and how abusers operate. There’s kind of a double meaning in that song: If it’s not you, that person is going to find somebody else to abuse. And also, I realized my own pattern: If I’m not choosing this person to have a toxic relationship with, it’s going to be somebody else.”
Realizations that Shook refuses to wrap up in tidy, satisfying bows appear again and again throughout the record. Whether it’s about lovers or addictions or other demons, listeners witness the light coming on for Shook or others––and our own bulbs start flickering. Over crying guitars channeling classic country cool, “It Doesn’t Change Anything” offers empathy and intimate understanding, but it doesn’t offer answers. “It’s about addiction and depression, and it’s holding space for somebody. It’s just saying, ‘I acknowledge what you’re going through and the battles that you’re facing are valid,’” Shook says.
Shook takes aim at being trapped by feelings they wish they didn’t have in the driving “Been Lovin’ You,” while “Please be a Stranger” is a swinging, witty send-off. Hardcore honky-tonker “No Mistakes” is a self-aware plea, and post-punk anthem “Talkin’ to Myself” is a foot-stomping, self-aware look at our relationships with our own minds.
The band has never sounded better. “After the initial writing is done, it’s all collaborative with the band,” says Shook. “There’s no hierarchy. I think that’s part of what gives us a little bit of magic: We all have deep admiration for each other.”
The title track is an example of Shook’s ability to make us question what we think we know. It’s also one of Shook’s finest vocal performances on the album. “I Got This” is pop punk perfection, while “Believer” is a soaring, melodic masterpiece.
Oozing distorted 1950’s nostalgia before plummeting into bass-y, bone-rattling psychedelic rock, “If It’s Poison” is a stunner. It’s also Shook’s favorite song on the record. Tentatively hopeful and full of tenderness, the track argues the time may finally be right for would-be lovers to give it a chance. Like all of their songs, “If It’s Poison” is part of Shook’s real story. The relationship didn’t last––at least, not the way it could have. And for Shook, the song has become even more personal and cathartic. “Music can be so healing,” they say. “I don’t know how people cope without having some kind of creative outlet for all the crazy things that happen to us.”
Asked what they hope listeners experience, Shook is clear. “Music is one of the ways we can connect to other people,” they say. “That’s my hope: That people feel seen and they feel connected to something that brings them a sense of peace.”
Secret Emchy Society
-from San Francisco, CA
-it’s the voice that hits you first. It’s big, a bit boisterous. It’s a voice that makes you grin, but it’s also sad and wise, and very observant. It’s a voice that stands you to a shot and a beer, kicks you out onto the dance floor despite your silly misgivings. It’s Cindy Emch’s voice - in every meaning of that word--that comes through on the pioneering queer-country singer and songwriter’s new album The Chaser.
Recorded with her long-running band, The Secret Emchy Society, The Chaser gives Cindy’s funny, deep songs an equally big voice. It’s a record of exact portraiture, country style. Cindy Emch knows how human beings behave when they’re in bars, when they’re lonely, and when they’re in love. And when they’re out of love. The Chaser is the work of an original who looks beyond Saturday night, toward an eternal present.
The Chaser finds Emch - the "y" was added by an emcee who couldn’t pronounce her name without another vowel - making a stopover in California country on a tour of modern, old-school country. Recorded at Cindy’s home studio in Oakland, California, the album embraces the totality of country: Nashville to Bakersfield, Houston to New Orleans, Tulsa to Oakland.
There’s no exact stylistic equivalent to the detail-packed rendering of classic country Emch & Co. delivered on The Chaser. Opener “Everything Was Fine” suggests rockabilly via the Sun Records licks producer-guitarist Tolan McNeil, who has worked with alt-country chanteuse Neko Case, brings to the table. (Some of The Chaser was done at McNeil’s studio in Victoria, British Columbia.) Secret Emchy Society has perfected their own allusive take on ‘60s folk-country. The Chaser bends the rules and makes you like it, and that’s what the best country music has always done.
The subtly Kinks-like tune “The Good Dog” puts her in the line of innovative songwriters like Ray Davies, Marijohn Wilkin, John D. Loudermilk, and Cowboy Jack Clement, the latter of whom wrote the early hits for African American country pioneer Charley Pride. Cindy’s songs cut to the bone, make you laugh, and - in the case of the aforementioned “The Good Dog,” about a canine who passes into history - might make you cry into that beer you’re having.
On top of that, the band cooks, in the intuitive way of The Beatles, Buck Owens, and the legendary countercultural folk innovators of the ‘60s and ‘70s, like The Holy Modal Rounders, The Incredible String Band and Lavender Country. (The latter group basically invented queer country on their epochal self-titled 1973 album, and Cindy has played shows with the band, which is still active.) The Chaser is also political, like the work of British punk-country band The Mekons. The Chaser is high-level honky-tonk art about Emch’s life as a queer lover of traditional country music, and her love for people - every kind of people.
“My songs are queer love songs about my own experience, and they’re honest,” Emch says about The Chaser. “They have integrity. But they are acceptable enough that there’s always a sweet, straight couple slow-dancing to the song I wrote for my wife. Queer country music can be as universal for straight folks as straight country music is for queer folks who listen to it.”
Cindy grew up in rural Howell, Michigan, and learned to sing listening to her mother, who played standards on accordion. Early on, she was drawn to the music of Leonard Cohen, and she got into country music when she was in her 20s - Yoakam, Cash, Lucinda Williams. As well, she listened to post-punk bands like X and Black Flag. After moving to the Bay Area in 1995, she made Oakland her base, playing in a couple of well-regarded punk-country bands, Vagabondage and Rhubarb Whiskey.
The Chaser builds upon The Secret Emchy Society’s 2017 album The Stars Fall Shooting into Twangsville, which earned plaudits from fans and writers for its take on hardcore country. The follow-up, 2019’s Mark’s Yard, is a sparsely recorded collection of cover versions by the likes of Tom Waits and Hank Williams Jr. It’s a testament to the vision of an artist who embodies the values of queer country via her many other accomplishments. These include editing Country Queer and hosting the popular Emchy’s Outlaw Americana show on Gimme Country radio, along with tour dates with the likes of Sarah Shook, Mercy Bell, and Karen & the Sorrows.
For The Chaser, Emch wrote the title track after talking to her wife - they’ve been together for 22 years - about her life. “We got into a conversation about how I’m always chasing things, whether it be people or dreams, or jobs, or goals,” she says. “It got me feeling pretty introspective about that concept.”
“The Chaser” is cast as a classic country waltz. Another song that reworks tradition is “Hell Is a Hard Place,” a soul-country excursion in 12/8 time that features a brief, Duane Eddy-like guitar solo, played on the low strings.
The album includes the first song Emch wrote for the record, the remarkable “Grackle.” It’s a statement of identity, about a former relationship Cindy had with a man, and her realization that she had to find her true self. Like the rest of The Chaser, the song is both dark and light, ominous and joyous. “Grackle” cruises in the timeless pop-folk-country continuum of Buck Owens, Jack Clement, and The Handsome Family’s similar re-creations of Nashville country. It’s surreal and down-to-earth at the same time.
It’s a bold statement in modern country, and, as Emch says, universal in intent. The Chaser is about the things that tie us together - loving, dancing, losing and getting up to try again - and the eternal struggle to figure out who we really are, day by day.
Josiah Y Flores
-from San Francisco, CA
-These are songs I recorded with some very good friends. The goal was to make the album sound like we were in a room together, conversing and sharing heartbreak.