Portland – Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires are getting acclaim for their liberal take on good ol’ Southern rock. Their second album Dereconstructed, released this past May on Sub Pop, is an expression of Lee Bain’s experiences as a born and raised Southerner who both loves the place he’s from and hates the ugly aspects of it. It’s the anti-oppression ethos of Neil Young’s “Southern Man” sung in the down home parlance of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” but with a punk edge, and it’s as in-your-face as the title would suggest.
But politics aside, if you’re going to play Southern rock the question arises: Can you choogle? Can you boogie? Can you get a grown woman to dance like a baby at your show? Portland’s Mississippi Studios held the firm answers to these hard questions.
By the time Lee Bains and Co. took the stage at eleven the room was unfortunately pretty empty. But the beauty of this particular style is that the emptier the bar is the more it feels like a backwoods honky tonk, and the better those big dirty riffs sound. Perhaps sensing this dynamic the Glory Fires launched into album opener, “The Company Man,” with an extra dose of vigor.
No sooner had they hit the bridge than by some miracle of Southern rock she appeared: the middle aged dancing lady. Half Elaine Benes, half happy toddler, 100% party, she appears wherever good classic rock times are to be had. Lee Bain’s husky soft-edged singing drawl must have summoned her when it elevated into a hound dog bay on the chorus of “The Company Man.”
The boys kept it loud and rowdy for their dancing matron and the twenty or so other crowd members in attendance as they played through Dereconstructed’s track list song for song. Lee Bains would jump off the stage to solo in the crowd then clamber back on stage for a chorus, usually losing his strap in the process. Somewhere in between “We Dare Defend Our Rights” and “Mississippi Bottomland” long-haired drummer Blake Williamson looked up mid-beat and pragmatically hocked a loogie right over his ride cymbal, which was pretty awesome.
Lee Bains likes to pause between songs and elucidate the meaning of the lyrics. These are usually earnestly political in nature (he introduced “What’s Good and Gone” as “an attempt to summarize the history of Western imperialism in under five minutes.”), but the last song of the night was more personal. Bains described “Dirt Track” as an ode to early days of stock car racing, before NASCAR, when it was just neighbors racing each other for fun. He compared that sense of communal enthusiasm to being in a band and playing shows with your buddies before you make it big, because you care about the music and not much else.
A poignant thought as the Glory Fires burned low to the refrain of “keep on working—keep it on the dirt track” and the venue emptied for the night.
Dig into Bain’s lyrics for yourself and check out the band’s tour dates here.