On the second day of tour, the night before the first day of spring, Sarah Shook has just gotten up on stage, a bright red curtain behind them and an even brighter red sunburst guitar in their hands, about to start into the show, before stopping to take their hands off of the guitar and asking if the light could be turned down some.
On the second day of pulling things together God had only just turned up the light and was still supposedly sorting out the separation of Heaven and Earth, but here at the Mercy Lounge, on the second day of tour, after the light is turned down some it only seems to make the red sunburst in Sarah's hands even brighter and only seems to take the separation of Heaven and Earth away too.
Starting off with “Good as Gold,” then following it with another five songs, one right after the other, from more than a few years of Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, there is a seamlessness to the new and old and renewed being played together, one right after the other. There are the songs that get everyone singing along, like “Fuck Up” with its refrain of “God never makes mistakes he just makes fuck ups,” and there are the songs, off of the two-year-overdue-in-release-and-tour Nightroamer, they'll be singing along to in the future.
The Disarmers—tonight made up of Tommy Scifres on the electric guitar, Aaron Oliva on bass, Adam “Ditch” Kurtz on pedal steel, and Jack Foster on the drums—strike the perfect balance between pedal steel and punk rock, while through it all is Sarah Shook and one of the most stunning of voices, a voice that sounds more like three or four singing in unison, filling the room and bouncing off the back wall of the Mercy Lounge then getting caught up and spun around in the set of ceiling fans before finding a way back to the stage to seemingly harmonize with Sarah Shook again, a voice that throughout the night becomes part Kurt Cobain, part Patti Smith, and part, well, maybe Dwight Yoakam too.
Only the second day of a tour that started in South Carolina before spinning through Tennessee to then head west through the better part of spring, but Sarah lets the Mercy Lounge know that the band “worked up something special just for y'all” before turning to, well, to ditch the red sunburst into Ditch's hands, take the microphone off the stand, and start into the highlight of the night. “I'm not gonna play guitar on this one, which is fucking weird," Sarah says, but what follows is a version of “Been Lovin' You Too Long” wholly unlike on Nightroamer but punk pure, another version of making everlasting things from stories of things that shouldn't last, another song that speaks to the circular nature of existence, which Sarah has once again taken and turned into another album full of lines reminding us that while we're not always at our best we're also not only what we've been at our worst.
“Enough of that rock 'n' roll shit, we're gonna slip back into country,” Sarah says after the song, with the red sunburst back in their hands, seemingly only getting brighter against the red curtain behind the Disarmers, the red exit signs above the heads moving back and forth in rhythm, and the red safety light running along a three-or-four-inch raised step that leads to the bar of the Mercy Lounge and gets more than a few to stumble on their way there, whether their heads are spinning off of a few too many beers or the sui generis sound of the songs.
"There's all this buzzworded commentary about being your authentic self, but what if you're a shitty person,” Sarah asks after a few more of those songs, with equal parts laughter and light bulbs going off from the crowd, before saying it should be more like, “Be your authentic self, but always work on yourself—just in case." And as for being one's authentic self, there is the song that follows in “If It's Poison,” the fifties-style dream-sounding song that starts with:
“Maybe this time we got the time right Lately I feel like life is kinda good So don't go changin' 'cause I like you alright Somebody gonna love you the way that they should”
And ends with:
“Only always is hangin' round this place And love don't always gotta have a bitter taste If it's poison, baby, we will know”
On through the rest of the night the set of ceiling fans will still be spinning their blades, which look to be at least six feet in length, but then on the last song of the night, “Devil May Care,” there is a set of seemingly even bigger fans of Sarah Shook spinning in circles, dancing until the night ends and the lights are turned up again and there is only the red curtain and a reminder that redemption isn't a one-time thing and that there is always another spring up ahead and another song to be spinning to, that there is always a light and that it doesn't have to be blinding, that there is nothing done that can't be renewed or redone. Whether or not God may have mercy, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers still have the Mercy Lounge, which may just still be spinning from “Devil May Care” and its refrain of “Let me shine a light on how it's gonna be, son.”
Photos by Emma Delevante
Words by Sam Farahmand