Mike Cooley. Larimer Lounge. 12.02.16 / 12.03.16

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Mike Cooley. Larimer Lounge. 12.02.16 / 12.03.16

Last time Mike Cooley passed through town without the other Truckers, he was welcomed by a blizzard. After a long day of travel from Seattle, “delirious and drunk were staring each other down and neither could see shit,” but that didn’t stop him from performing almost every song he had released up until that frigid February weekend in 2013. “Next time I’m in Denver, you’ll have to show me some local culture; you know, now that we’ve done the snow thing.” By the end of his Sunday afternoon set, he was cold, tired, horny, and ready to get home to his wife. You couldn’t blame him either. The man, who once compared touring alone to a colonoscopy, had successfully entertained his loyal fans with a pair of rare acoustic sets. Even the few obnoxious assholes in the crowd were no match for his signature (and sometimes sharp) southern grace.

Those two shows were full of stories, personality, and tiny nuggets of wisdom. The songs were almost secondary to Cooley himself. I felt like I’d finally been introduced to the man I’d seen perform from the side of the stage so many times before. He played the part of a grumpy old man whenever someone put a phone in the air or yelled something inappropriate, but the actor always cracked with a quick smirk or smile, thus allowing his identity to shine through the flimsy façade. The entire experience was completely open and honest. It was like hanging out with family.

The back-to-back performances last weekend were quite different. Cooley was much more reserved and patient with the crowd.

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He was all business on Friday night. “Space City” led right into “Self Destructive Zones”, before “Shit Shots Count” led right into “Birthday Boy”, which led into “Marry Me”. This all happened without much more than a simple “thank you” to acknowledge the audience even existed. Drunken enthusiasts couldn’t help meeting Cooley’s between-song silence with expletive encouragement, but every “fuck yeah!” was met with indifference. It wasn’t until “Zip City” was introduced as being “a few short years away from classifying as classic rock” that he even seemed to recognize his surroundings. “I’ve been here a lot lately and I’m not complaining. I heard I’m coming back in January.” Referencing the upcoming Truckers shows, he took the opportunity to power through a few DBT classics such as “Uncle Frank”, “Women Without Whiskey”, and “72 (This Highway’s Mean)”.

Cooley has always been one to measure his words; never allowing a single syllable to escape his mouth without good reason. The guy can seriously sum up the meaning of life in a short sentence. But having been spoiled by those shows a few years ago, I must say I was a little disappointed in his detachment this time around. Flashes of humor did light the dark room on occasion (“Gravity’s Gone” was introduced as the one “about science and bullshit” and he referred to himself as the “world’s laziest roadie” while tuning his guitar and sipping whiskey at the same time), but overall, he let the songs speak for themselves. And if anyone is going to get away with that in an acoustic setting, it is Mike Cooley. Excellent selections from American Band were bookends for old favorites like “A Ghost to Most” and “Panties in Your Purse”, while selections like “Cartoon Gold” were accompanied by a harmonica. The set covered his entire career, regardless of what the guy yelling for “The Living Bubba” might have thought.

Despite seeming despondent at times, Cooley couldn’t thank the crowd enough toward the end of the set. “Gonna do a couple more and then crash and come back and do it again. I really appreciate doing this for you folks; no, I really do.” The performance ended with “Cottonseed” and a cover of Eddie Hinton’s “Everybody Needs Love”. Then he picked up his guitar and disappeared backstage, leaving the rest of us to drink, swap Truckers stories, and sing the praises of one of the greatest songwriters of all time.

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Saturday night was a slightly more engaging show, but better living through chemistry was on full display among those in the crowd. Cooley commented on the “cold weather fireflies,” claiming he wanted to “take them home and show them to my mommy.” I can only assume he was talking about people burning in front of the stage. He claimed his whiskey was medicinal, but his whiskey didn’t have him holding onto the railing to keep from hitting the ground, like some unfortunate souls around me. At one point, I saw a dude (who had been swaying for quite some time) take a header right into a group of people. He woke up just as they saved him from cracking his skull on the concrete ground.

Keeping myself in a constant state of flux to avoid the inebriated, it was an interesting night to say the least, but I do think it was the better of the two performances. Cooley got political at times (“State’s rights is a double standard. If you do something that pisses them off, then it’s fuck your state’s rights. Have you noticed that has been a pattern since about 1850?”); he spoke about his son before “Eyes Like Glue” (“this one is for the audience I have the other 22 hours of the day”), and he laughed about the “utter absurdity” of what he does for a living. When someone yelled “You’re a bad motherfucker!” his response was simple — “Don’t tell my mother.

Saturday night’s setlist contained many of the songs from the night before (in a different order), but also included “Carl Perkin’s Cadillac”, “Pulaski”, “Love Like This”, and “Eyes Like Glue”. Cooley showed the same gratitude before leaving the stage; thanking the audience and Larimer Lounge and claiming to have had a wonderful time. Then he quoted George Carlin (“It’s all one big fucking club and you ain’t in it. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you’ll get on with your life. So, stay positive.”) before picking up his guitar and heading backstage. Someone yelled out for “Carl Perkin’s Cadillac”, even though he had already played it, but that didn’t stop him from coming back for an encore. “Well alright goddammit.” The night closed with “A Ghost to Most” and then he was gone for good.

See you in January.

I realize, without even going back and reading what I just wrote, that I sound slightly negative about these shows. I assure you that was not my intention. Mike Cooley is one of my favorite singer/songwriters to have ever lived. I could stand around and listen to him perform for hours on end. I don’t need him to share anything about himself that isn’t already in the song. I enjoyed every minute of his performance each night. It’s just that acoustic shows can be difficult sometimes. You can’t expect a Drive-By Truckers’ crowd to keep it cool. Heavy drinking is always going to be involved. And when songs like “Zip City” and “Marry Me” cycle through the set, things are going to get rowdy. It’s just the nature of the material. I think Cooley has just become better at reading the room. He has gotten better at touring on his own. Sometimes storyteller-mode is the way to go; sometimes it pays to be engaged. But other times it makes more sense to just play the songs and let the beasts run wild. Either way, I’m just glad the guy chooses to spend so much time in Denver.

12.02.16:
Space City
Self Destructive Zones
Shit Shots Count
Birthday Boy
Marry Me
Zip City
Uncle Frank
Women Without Whiskey
72 (This Highway’s Mean)
Gravity’s Gone
Perfect Timing
Made Up English Oceans
Surrender Under Protest
Cartoon Gold
A Ghost to Most
Filthy and Fried
Panties in Your Purse
Cottonseed
Everybody Needs Love

12.03.16:
Carl Perkins’ Cadillac
Women Without Whiskey
72 (This Highway’s Mean)
Pulaski
Perfect Timing
Eyes Like Glue
Gravity’s Gone
Cartoon Gold
Panties in Your Purse
Filthy and Fried
Marry Me
Love Like This
Made Up English Oceans
Surrender Under Protest
Cottonseed
Zip City
Self Destructive Zones
Shit Shots Count

A Ghost to Most

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