A party atmosphere enveloped DC’s City Winery on Labor Day, as the nation’s capital got a taste of the Austin music scene with a doubleheader of Carolyn Wonderland’s twangy Sixties-influenced psychedelic blues and the swamp-funk of Shinyribs. Wonderland took the stage first, her appearance and bearing invoking memories of Janis Joplin. Carolyn’s uncanny resemblance to Janis goes beyond a look, though. A Texas lady like Pearl, Carolyn’s voice is the closest to Janis’ I’ve ever heard, not only in her accent, but in vocal power. Studio albums, no matter how good they are, cannot do justice to a singer with a voice as powerful as Carolyn’s. Listening to Carolyn wail and howl like Janis, I wondered just how much she really needed her microphone.
Carolyn’s singing is only half of the package, though. She is an absolute monster guitar player; my friend Paul said “she sings like Janis and plays guitar like Hendrix.” That’s an impressive description, but she’s a damn good guitarist, good enough that she (as well as her bassist) also plays with John Mayall—as in John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, the band that Eric Clapton once played guitar in. She’s a versatile player, too, showing off her skills with the electric lap steel as well as the standard electric guitar.
After an intermission, Shinyribs got down with his bad, funky self on stage. Originally formed as a side project by Gourds member Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell, the eight-piece New Orleans-flavored outfit became his full-time band with the breakup of the Gourds. Where the Gourds were famous for their bluegrass rendition of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice,” Shinyribs takes it back to the ’90s with TLC’s “Waterfalls.” I expected that to come either at the end of their set or in their encore but, surprisingly, it made its appearance fairly early in the set. They closed, instead, with an audience request: “Lake Charles,” a rousing number with a bit of Lucinda Williams in the instrumentals to the refrain.
It struck me just how little Shinyribs played guitar during his set. He played the mandolin almost as much as the electric guitar. Often, he was just singing the lead vocals. Well, he wasn’t just singing. Shinyribs was dancing and otherwise moving, almost ceaselessly, in ways that defied his size. As a stockier man myself, I am frequently self-conscious about my body and about moving it, and it was inspiring to see Shinyribs completely cut loose. It made me think that the problem is not my size, or even what people think about my size, but how I think they think about it, and, if I can learn to get past that, like Shinyribs obviously has, I could be having a lot of fun.
With two acts, this is the longest show I’ve seen at City Winery. When Shinyribs left the stage, it was 10:50, and I was exhausted, but happy. The couple across from me, who’d taken in the show on a lark, left planning to explore some new artists. As usual, my experience at City Winery was a pleasure, and I look forward to catching more shows there