The Sweetback Sisters Make a Long-Awaited Return to Their Favorite Brooklyn Honkytonk
The Sweetback Sisters don’t play as many New York shows as they used to, which means that the badass twin-female-fronted oldschool honkytonk and Americana band should draw an especially good crowd to their June 17, 9 PM show at the Jalopy. Cover is $15; get there early. It’s the Jalopy, after all, so the pre-show hangout comes without all the hassles and high prices you get at so many other venues.
The last time this blog caught the band, it was almost a couple of years ago – damn, how time flies – out back of City Winery. Co-bandleader/singer/multi-instrumentalist Zara Bode had relocated to San Francisco, away from her counterpart, fiddler/guitarist Emily Miller, so this was a heartwarming reunion of sorts. Bode took the smoky low harmony against Miller’s soaring high one on a spirited, syncopated western swing number to open the show. Then they took that style, and the energy, to redline with the scampering, catchy Texas Bluebonnets, packed with all sorts of neat tradeoffs between fiddle and electric guitar. Looking back, it’s impossible to remember exactly who the personnel onstage were, other than the frontwomen; previous lineups have featured bassist Peter Bitenc, drummer Stefan Amidon, fiddler Jesse Milnes and ferocious lead guitarist Ryan Hommel.
Bode again took centerstage on a defiantly jazz-tinged strut through It’s All Your Fault, with a simmering rockabilly solo from the lead player. Miller took over lead vocals on You’re Gonna Miss Me, an energetic, poignant, swinging 1950s-style C&W number: the Jingle Bell Rock quote from the lead player was pricelessly funny. Then they swung their way through a snarling take of Looking for a Fight, the title track to their 2012 cult favorite album.
Next on the bill was a slow, vengeful, blue-flame waltz, followed by a brisk Texas shuffle. It Won’t Hurt (When I Fall Down from This Barstool) was as irresistibly fun, and just as pissed-off, a salute to both the curative and destructive powers of whiskey. They swung a high-energy take of Hank Williams’ Lovesick Blues by the tail, then scampered through a lickety-split kiss-off anthem. Then they brought things down with the morosely echoey, clangingThe King of Killing Time, bringing to mind early Willie Nelson. The Sweetback Sisters’ take on honkytonk isn’t cry-in-your-beer music: it’s a middle finger smack in the face of bad times, bitter lemons distilled into spiked lemonade. It’ll be awfully cool to see what else the band has come up with since then.