Only a handful of fans stood within spitting distance of Lee Roy Parnell when he opened his show Saturday at the State Theatre in Falls Church, leaving the Texas slide guitar specialist feeling a bit lonely. "Looks like we just got the die-hards here tonight," he said before launching into his 1993 hit "On the Road."
But just a few bars into that bouncy traveling-band anthem, the crowd in the spacious art deco playhouse, which only recently reopened as a live music venue, began filtering toward the stage. And the roar that went up at song's end further assured Parnell that he had more than a quorum. He showed his gratitude with a raucous performance that lasted more than two hours.
On record, Parnell comes off as much softer than most of the other acts--Delbert McClinton and Joe Ely among them--that got their start in the Lone Star State's roadhouse scene. He delivered fairly faithful renditions of light fare ("Tender Moments," "Holdin' My Own") and the ballad "Saved by the Grace of Your Love," which he wrote and has been covered by Aaron Neville.
But Parnell's live offerings also show a flair for the rough stuff. He made his Stratocaster moo during an extended intro to "Milk Cow Blues," then put away his slide, bending the strings almost to the breaking point in a slew of single-note solos in boisterous versions of the Allman Brothers classic "Midnight Rambler" and, especially, "If the House Is Rockin'."
It indeed was.