The Pinehill Haints
Record Store That Shall Remain Anonymous to Prevent Anyone From Asking Troublesome Questions About Permits, Okay?
Wednesday, Jan. 23 Punk: the Pistols. Proto-punk: the Stooges. Proto-proto-punk: some will say Jerry Lee, some might say Buddy Holly, some might say Chuck Berry (who did, after all, go on to play shows with the Circle Jerks—not to mention his G.G.-Allin-style dating life). Beyond that, history starts to get hazy, and beyond even that is where the Pinehill Haints come from. You know the endless arguments about punk-this-not-punk-that? Believe us, we hear them all, particularly any time you people decide to write us letters, and the Haints are one of the sweetest ways to hear one of our favorites: the idea that, once stripped of its sociopolitical context, punk is simply a liberating be-and-do-it-yourself attitude that you can trace way back when into any of the more creatively potent pockets in time. So, fuck electric guitars—hell, fuck electricity, even!—and set us up with something more anachronistic than anarchic: the Pinehill Haints, the dirty South's most punk rock/folk quintet, hollering out music your jitterbugging grandparents probably thought was square.
You'd have to dig through the Smithsonian Archives to hear any of their influences: whole lost nations of guitar-strumming Appalachian hillbillies, a ghost folk language not uttered in the wild—and especially not by fringe-y new-millennium counterculture twentysomething punk rockers—by just about anybody since after the first Great War. We'd think it'd be tough to hear this live anymore: idioms change, and even though you'll still find plenty of people plinking at acoustic guitars down at the coffee shop, an acoustic guitar alone does not folk music make. The Haints remember how folk used to have an edge to it, a uncompromising raw realness that grew right out of the hardscrabble people who played it. But folk has sort of been detached from relevancy for a while—when was the last time you heard a bunch of coal miners singing old Wobbly songs?—and the only way we ever hear creepy old backwoods ballads like this is to fire up a copy of the American Anthology of Folk Music(or maybe watch a little of O Brother, Where ArtThou?). And then we saw the Haints.
The only concession they made to modernity was one battered Fender amp set on "1" (We don't see that very often now, do we?) and a fat dinosaur of an electric guitar so gloriously antique we wouldn't have been surprised if they had to stop between songs to shovel a little more coal into it. The rest of the gear wasn't anything you couldn't dig out of the trash pile behind the general store: a big metal bucket and a rope! A washboard! Even a floppy old saw! We can't even get a saw to cut through a sliver of plywood, and here's this scruffy kid wailing away like it's a violin! And the songs? Letter-perfect hoot-alongs about ghosts (of course), women, drinkin' and that old-time religion, delivered dolefully or soulfully as appropriate. Squint and you'd think you were dozens of years away, at least until you saw how everyone was wearing Converses instead of dusty work boots.
Don't get us wrong: we love loud, we love sweaty, and we love music that makes our hair curl up even tighter than it is now. But the Pinehill Haints were a nice reminder that most of the power in music doesn't come from that outlet in the wall. The sad thing was that the only people there to love it were those personally invited by someone performing that night: us, two kids from LA who used to live in the South, and some friends of opening act Wilmot Proviso. Normally, we relish an opportunity to snob out on you great-unwashed types, but this one hurt: when you people figure out what you missed, you'll punch yourself in the stomach out of frustration (dear anonymous record store: we love you for doing shows like this, but next time, please, more publicity than one lonely flier taped to the front counter, which we didn't even see until we were on our way out). Really, folk music is great—but it's better when there are actual folks around to hear it.
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