Ace of Spades, Sacramento
Saturday, April 19, 2014
I’ll start by noting that I spent the bulk of my 20s running in the opposite direction of mainstream country music. I’ve relaxed that stance a bit in recent years, but it’s still not my thing. Having said that, here’s why I spent a recent Saturday night at the Jon Pardi show at Ace of Spades.
I grew up in the Sacramento suburb of Winters, where Pardi’s band Northern Comfort was a staple of the downtown bar scene in the mid-‘00s. I played in a punk band around that time, and we often played those same bars, but to much smaller crowds and with much sloppier results.
I was drinking in one of those downtown dive bars when I first happened upon Northern Comfort. The band was fast, loose and rowdy. They delivered on all of the raw energy country had to offer, without the cookie-cutter corniness that tends to dominate the country charts. I loved it. Winters nightlife was exponentially better on nights when they played.
A year or so after that, the band broke up and Pardi set his sights on Nashville. Since then he’s come through Sacramento on occasion, and I’ve attended a few of the shows. The first was at JJ’s Saloon in Winters (now defunct, as Winters has replaced most of its dive bars with wine tasting rooms). Next was The Grad in Davis, followed by headlining gigs at the Dixon May Fair and Ace of Spades.
Fact: The headliners at the May Fair the previous year were Snoop Dogg and Larry the Cable Guy.
That’s a steep trajectory, and it’s extra impressive when you consider there are thousands of musicians just like Pardi trying to scrap their way to the top in Nashville as I type this.
Pardi has 112,000 Facebook “likes” and 27,000 Twitter followers, along with his own semi-vibrant hashtag: #PardiTime. It’s stamped all over his T-shirts and hats, and serves as a hub for all things Pardi-related on Twitter.
His last name is pronounced “PAR-TY,” and it happens to be entirely on brand with his image. That matters in Nashville, where every performer is playing a character. Pardi’s making his marketing team’s job very easy without even trying too hard.
The Ace of Spades show kicked off with a song called “What I Can’t Put Down,” which is also the first track from his new album, Write You a Song. It’s a lively country-rock song that revels in the difficulty that goes along with kicking your vices. The song celebrates the memories one can create while routinely fucking up, and it’s carried along by money lines like this: “The devil wears black and he goes by Jack and he’s really good at helping me forget.”
The song embodies the whole “devil on your left shoulder, angel on your right” scenario with simple perfection. As you listen, it’s clear you’ll be leaning in the direction of the devil on this particular night, but at least you’ll have the decency to feel bad about it tomorrow.
Fact: Five of the 11 songs on Pardi’s album directly reference or allude to alcohol. “What I Can’t Put Down” (Jack Daniels), “Up All Night” (eating jerky and drinking a 12-pack with some lady), “Trash a Hotel Room” (general partying), “Empty Beer Cans” (duh) and “When I’ve Been Drinkin’” (duh).
Pardi has already toured with some of the biggest names in country music, including Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley. He’s also opened for country icons like Alan Jackson and Dwight Yoakam. All four singles from his major label debut have cracked the Top 50 of Billboard’s Hot Country Song charts. He’s 28 years old. It’s not far fetched to speculate that he could be on the brink of something massive.
Back when Pardi was still local, I remember watching him play an unfamiliar, yet incredibly infectious song as I finished a beer before leaving the bar. I was standing next to the “stage,” so when he finished, I leaned in and asked him about the song. I had never formally met him, but I was curious about the song.
“It’s called ‘Wagon Wheel,’” he told me, and then explained that it was a Bob Dylan verse that a country band had expanded into a fully fleshed-out song. I went home and learned it, and played the shit out of it in the years that followed.
It was obscure then, but these days you can’t walk down the street without getting clubbed in the face by that song. That’s in part because Hootie covered it, but also because it’s just a really high-quality blend of simple chords and melody that grabs you on a visceral level.
That’s a quality that also exists in Pardi’s songs, and he was obscure a few years ago, too.