Uncle Leon and the Alibis

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“Uncle Leon and the Alibis Raise the Roof at Rodeo Bar”

July 26th, 2010

From Lucid Culture – New York City

“I love you, Leon!” a girl hollered from the back of the bar. Uncle Leon, frontman of Uncle Leon and the Alibis is not your typical babe magnet – he could be Joba Chamberlain’s wiser, older brother (they have a similar midwestern blue-collar look). But he pulls demographics that your average bunch of Strokes wannabes would kill for. Back in the early-to-mid zeros these guys put on some of the funnest, funniest shows in town…and then they broke up. It didn’t really matter that they weren’t particularly tight, because Leon’s David Allan Coe-style songs were so funny. The first thing that hits you is what a good band this new version of the group is – they don’t need to be funny all the time to be interesting. Lead guitarist Charlie Aceto plays the stuff Leon can’t, and has a good handle on Bakersfield guitar – and he can do Social Distortion roots-punk and blues too. Maria on the drums is missed – she was always at least half of why the original band was so irresistible – but the guy who replaced her is solid and and can really swing, teaming up with bassist Neil Magnuson.

The thing that separates these guys from the rest of the funny country bands out there is that their jokes are usually pretty smart and edgy: they don’t just rely on cornball cornpone humor. Leon’s specialty is the battle of the sexes:

the good guys always lose, badly. That’s how he comes across – that, and his resonant baritone probably explain the presence of all the women at his shows. Sure, he’s having fun up there, but the guy can flat-out sing. That this particular set was successful without either of his big hits, “I Hate My Job” or “Drugstore Roses” (or his cover of “Baby Got Back”), speaks for how good the rest of the material was. They opened with a blackly funny faux-murder ballad based on a real-life encounter between Leon and a bounty hunter in a Dairy Queen parking lot somewhere in Kansas. “My Love Is Like a Monster Truck” was what you’d think it was: monster trucks use up a lot of rubber (that might not have actually been one of the lyrics, but it could have been). A slowly swaying, mournful ballad turned into a kiss-off anthem: “When you said ‘I love you,’ I thought that meant just me,” Leon explained. They blasted through a truck-driving number, “Blue Sky and Blacktop” and then a boisterous version of “Hot Rod Mamas”, where he skewered “catalog girls” with their perfect everything and their self-centeredness – he likes a girl with a little junk in the trunk but with brains too.

They did three covers: an understatedly vicious version of Hank Williams’ “My Love For You Has Turned to Hate”, the Merle Haggard classic “Swingin’ Doors” and a practically halfspeed, swinging, straight-up country take of the Stones’ “Dead Flowers” – that song’s retirement date may have come and gone a long time ago, but damned if these guys didn’t make it sound fresh. They wrapped up their first set with a cowpunk number – Good Time Woman? Two Time Woman? Two Ton Woman? [“Good-Time Woman” – UL.] It could have been any of them, maybe more than one.

Uncle Leon is not only a singer, he’s a co-founder of Brooklyn Country, who maintain an excellent site dedicated to country and roots music in New York, with a concert calendar, interviews and the occasional album review. Kind of like us, but more specialized. Uncle Leon and the Alibis’ next gig is at midnight on 9/11 at Southpaw as part of the excellent three-day Brooklyn Country Music Festival.

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