Monday, September 30 2013
A couple weeks ago I saw Dan Baird and Homemade Sin play, and it was the best rock ‘n’ roll show I have ever seen. They were amazing: they crushed it. They rocked as hard as anybody I ever saw live, which is surprising because a) the band is obscure, and b) at least 3/4ths of the band are old enough to be AARP members.
Short version: these guys don’t deserve to be playing tiny clubs for a few bucks more than tab. They could totally wreck a packed arena with their sound, and would be worth seeing at four times what I paid for my ticket. If you like rock, and they’re playing nearby, you should see them just so you know how it’s supposed to be done.
And if the venue is small enough — as small as the one I went to — you might also get a surprisingly poignant look at talent, disappointment, and commitment, on which the rest of this post.
If you don’t recognize the name, let me save you a google by explaining that Dan Baird is former frontman for the Georgia Satellites, which had a hit in 1986 with “Keep Your Hands Yourself” — a slightly gimmicky but clever Southern blues-rocker about the social mores of premarital intimacy. He also had a solo hit with “I Love You Period“, a song about young lust and grammar.
By the time I was old enough to choose my own radio station, the Satellites had broken up and “Keep Your Hands To Yourself” relegated the band to one-hit wonder status. Then a few years ago, I joined eMusic, started looking for stuff to listen to, and somehow found the Georgia Satellites’ back catalog. I also discovered Baird was recording with Homemade Sin; their eponymous first album is now one of my favorites.
Where I once considered the Satellites’ work a guilty pleasure, I now think Dan Baird is deeply underrated: he writes consistently good songs, puts together tasty hooks and tight riffs, and his lyrics a good bit sharper than you realize on the first listen. He doesn’t aim for cerebral (c.f. Dylan), but his work is still pretty clever — and more importantly, his songs are fun.
What I got in the show is that he’s also a talented performer: his shows are fun, and he has huge fun playing them. These guys just got up there and did it, hard, for a couple hours. The audience was me and everyone’s dad, and none too high energy: Baird and co. poured it into the crowd. You know how bands say, “you’ve been a great audience”? Homemade Sin was only being polite: we were weak. If you’ve ever seen a band kick ass, you know what I’m talking about: they killed us dead.
And the whole time they’re playing, I keep wondering why they were in that tiny club. I’m sure lots of crap bands ride out their careers on a hit or two, not really doing anything new or different, content to be novelty acts. Those acts deserve tiny stages and lazy audiences, but Dan Baird ain’t one of them. After the Satellites broke up, he kept writing and recording new music, touring, working working working. Even without the Satellites’ backstory, his work with Homemade Sin stands on its own — and to their credit, they played “Keep Your Hands To Yourself” early, like fourth in the set. They blitzed through it in less time than the record — as if to say, ‘yeah, we did that, but just you wait and see’. Here’s the tape:
Weirdly, there are no good videos of his more recent stuff, but I promise you it’s every bit as strong as his work with the Satellites.
So anyway, you have this guy who is every bit as talented and dedicated as many household names in rock music, but somehow stuck playing tiny shows for pocket change. You can’t imagine how hard it must be to be Dan Baird while — random example – the hacks who are now Lynyrd Skynyrd play every state fair and casino in the country (and I don’t even like the original Skynyrd). You might wonder how he survives that knowledge, but there’s probably not enough alcohol and heroin in the world to numb the pain.
What happened, as near as I can figure, is that the Georgia Satellites landed at a terrible time for Southern rock. Just as rock was going a more ‘serious’ direction — think Guns ‘N’ Roses — the FCC changed its rules to allow a lot more radio stations on FM, which especially benefited country music stations that switched over from AM. Meanwhile, country music was starting to get more rock-like, with acts like Billy Ray Cyrus getting big. So maybe the Georgia Satellites were not rock enough for rock radio, but rocking too hard for country, and they had a hard time finding an audience. That’s my guess, anyway, but it boils down to back luck — not a question of hard work or talent, which Baird has in plenty. He just fell through the cracks of pop culture, while crappier bands made millions. Different show, also recent:
You could imagine, with a career arc like that, Dan Baird might be pissed off; he might be disappointed or bitter. Maybe he is, but if he feels any sort of disappointment, it certainly doesn’t show up on stage. Baird and the band looked like they were having more fun than I ever have had anywhere. I can’t say enough how hard they crushed it up there. They were smiling the whole time, teasing each other between songs: even if I were deaf, I would have had fun at that show.
I happened to be near where Baird landed when he left the stage — it was a tiny club — and could hear him talking to his roadie about an encore. He was totally beat — he took nothing with him when he left that stage — but man, was he happy. It was incredibly touching: this guy who’ll be 60 (!) in a few months, whose career has definitely not gone the way he imagined, every right to be bitter but still giving 100% every chance he gets. And he dragged his ass back up on that stage and played an encore.
And I realized, this is what Dan Baird does: the guy literally can’t do anything else. This is an artist wholly consumed by his art. He is 100% committed to his music — despite everything — and I can’t help but wonder if anything makes him happier than making that music real. I wonder if anything could make me that happy. Maybe not, but I had a hell of a lot of fun watching him in that club. This him overseas, playing a Satellites’ song.
As I was working on this post, I got an email from their management: the new Homemade Sin album is now available. I pre-ordered, so I’ve been listening to it as I put this post together: it rocks as hard as I hoped it would. If you’re new to the band, definitely start with their first album, but the new one is also very strong. You can do a lot worse for rock and roll these days. I also have ‘Ramshackle’, an album by his side project, The Bluefields — and it is also strong.
Buy the albums if you can, but the main thing is: see these guys live if they ever do a show near you. You won’t regret it — and might be amazed.