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Patterson Hood Hits Crowd with Lyrics Then Guitar

June 24th, 2009

Patterson Hood and the Screwtopians – Music Hall of Williamsburg – June 23, 2009

(Photo: Adam Smith)

(Photo: Adam Smith)

Patterson Hood is one of those rare songsmiths who will get you to lean in closer so you can better hear the words he’s singing and then, once you’re within range, smack you silly in the face with some heavy-duty guitar. Such is the case with the Drive-By Truckers and such was the case last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg with his current side project, the Screwtopians. One minute I was straining to catch Hood’s lyrics (what was that he sang about “baseball and science”?) the next minute I was straining to catch my balance as guitars, keyboards, drums, bass and pedal steel whipped up a raucous rock.

Personally, I enjoyed it when things got a little quieter on tunes like “The Range of War,” where the lyrics were transmitting clearly and the pedal steel dominated. Then again, I’m a sucker for the pedal steel. Hood explained the project: Dusting off some recently rediscovered 15-year-old tunes riddled with the anger of a barely employed recent divorcée and then “responding” to them with new material written by the same guy 10 years later in anticipation of the birth of his first child.

The Screwtopians had all the earmarks of a side project with friends from other groups filling in the backing band and guitar players turning away from the audience to rock out, more like buddies in a garage having fun than a band trying to earn its keep. Perhaps the best part was the fact that Will Johnson from Centro-matic was in it—not necessarily for his playing in the Screwtopians, but for the fact that he was in the house to play an opening set. Johnson held down the stage with just guitar and voice, singing out of the side of his mouth like every song was a whispered secret to the crowd, but a stage whisper at best. His voice—loud, crisp, powerful and soulful—was the best thing going. He concluded with a full-band tune that had me hoping his next side project might be Will Johnson and the Screwtopians. —A. Stein