When last heard from back in September, Whiskeytown’s old peers The Backsliders were moving tentatively toward regrouping on a fulltime basis. They played a show as the Howell/Robinson Quartet, and it went well enough that they decided to play again — this time under the Backsliders name, last night at Raleigh’s Pour House. The first “official” Backsliders show in more than nine years, and it was pretty much everything I’d hoped it could be. They flat-out blew the roof off the joint in front of a packed house.
The proceedings began on a thoughtful note with Chip Robinson calling for a moment of silent reflection about the previous day’s horrific events. To my surprise, the audience actually complied. Then the Backsliders fired up the first song of the set, “Yep!,” triggering a mass adrenaline rush that was amazing to witness — and feel. We were all feeling it, too. Ever been overcome with the realization that you’ve been missing something without even realizing it, until the thing in question was suddenly back in your life? That’s what last night felt like.
In this particular instance, it was the combination of Chip’s voice and Steve Howell’s guitar, which still fit together with such bar-band perfection that it felt as if no time at all had gone by. This edition of the Backsliders doesn’t have quite as much guitar firepower as the mid-’90s model with Brad Rice, but Howell more than compensated with a display of the sort of six-string virtuosity you usually see on much, much larger stages. When they hit the one-two punch of “Throwin’ Rocks at the Moon” and “My Baby’s Gone” at about the halfway point, it was an ecstatic moment. Based on the fistbumps and handshakes Howell and Robinson were exchanging, I think you’ll get a chance to see it again real soon.
Yes indeed, the Backsliders are back. Yep!
ADDENDUM: By the way, I’ve also been meaning to post this lovely essay, which expresses with note-perfect grace what the Backsliders meant to Raleigh back in the day.