Chris Shiflett grew up in Santa Barbara, California. His childhood idols were Kiss. He first gained attention as a member of punk band No Use For A Name. And for almost two decades he’s been the Foo Fighters’ lead guitarist.
Yet, over the past five years, the musician with such bonafide rock credentials has been beating a path down to Nashville (the city not the TV show) on three solo albums. The latest, West Coast Town, is his most authentic yet. Recorded in the city’s legendary RCA Studio A with Chris Stapleton’s producer Dave Cobb, its classic country sound is worlds away from the genre’s mainstream. Rowdy, rebellious, and straight shootin’, it’s the real deal – even when stripped of the characteristic pedal-steel twang, honky tonk piano, and Wurlitzer.
Performed solo on an acoustic guitar, at London’s 200-capacity Water Rats venue (which seems to have had a fantastic upgrade), there’s no mistaking just how sincere and heartfelt the LP is. Clearly autobiographical, or heavily influenced by personal experience, these songs are perfect for an up close and personal set interspersed with off-the-cuff banter and confessional anecdotes.
It turns out that The Girl’s Already Gone is about the time he (briefly) decided to give up his rock ‘n roll dreams, move to the suburbs, and become an accountant. A rough-and-tumble Tonight’s Not Over, which begins with the lyric “Jenny slipped me two hits of Ecstasy and I’m still tripping”, partly reveals why those early dreams of suburban bliss were short-lived.
In fine comedic form tonight, he bangs out solos on his acoustic guitar and when initially faced with no reaction from the quiet London crowd quips: “Clap motherfuckers, I just played a guitar solo!”, ensuring all such gestures from that point on are met with rapturous applause and whooping.
The wild Goodnight Little Rock recounts his time playing dive bars across the US in the early ‘90s. The title track is packed with childhood memories of growing up in, yes, a west coast town. And, as a self-confessed glass half empty guy, the touching love song for his wife (Still Better Days) is more realism than rainbows.
That realism continues with an emotional take on Blow Out The Candles, as well as a stark rendition of album bonus track and bleak political piece Mrs America. And he pairs the most “mopey ass sad song” in his repertoire, I’m Still Drunk, with the Merle Haggard tearjerker Holding Things Together.
But you can’t keep Shiflett down for long. Despite dealing with loneliness, Room 102 swings. The ebullient Cherry sounds like the most fun you can have with an acoustic guitar. Waylon Jennings classic Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way? becomes a good time duet with support act Sam Palladio from Nashville (the TV show not the city).
And, even in its bare bones format, irrepressible current single Sticks & Stones is as sunny as California, and as hot as a packed London venue in summer.
Live review of Chris Shiflett @ The Water Rats by Nils van der Linden on 14th June 2017. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.
Read Kalpesh’s interview with Chris Shiflett: Interview: Chris Shiflett, Honky-Tonk Foo Fighter
Nils runs fantastic music blog Graffiti. Punctuated
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate