Even the best honky-tonkers are more fun to watch when they're in a good mood. But the business end of the Nashville experience seemed to be wearing down the members of BR5-49, country music's most popular touring bar band, when they took the Birchmere stage on Wednesday. Early in the set, singer-guitarists Chuck Mead and Gary Bennett made a lot of inside jokes about the band's future in general, and its future with Arista Records to be specific. Judging by the punch lines, those futures aren't so bright.
With a stage full of vintage instruments and amps, and members decked out in pointy boots and western suits, BR5-49 looks the part of an authentic classic country combo. And since Mead and Bennett can both summon up Lefty Frizzell's twangy tenor whenever it's needed, the sound is there, too. But BR5-49, like a bumpkin Barenaked Ladies, relies heavily on kitsch, and so the singers' blues could only discolor their delivery. But thankfully, the crowd would have none of BR5-49's melancholy, and egged the performers on to expected heights during such numbers as "Little Ramona (Gone Hillbilly Nuts)," a paean to the countrification of a mohawked punker, and "Me 'n' Opie (Out by the Duck Pond)," a tale of getting stoned with Andy Griffith's TV son. Near the end of the night, BR5-49 offered up a cover of Frizzell's "The Long Black Veil," a tale of murder and adultery. By then, the mood in the room was so upbeat, even that seemed funny.