One thing has been proven time and again over the last 20 years: White Cowbell Oklahoma knows how to bring the party. And while the band may have toned it down some over the years, that doesn’t mean that their stage show isn’t still the craziest in Canada. And yes, there is indeed a cowbell, and a lot more besides.
White Cowbell Oklahoma (WCO) did not disappoint Ottawans on February 8 at Maverick’s, bringing their hard party and creative entertainment tactics to an audience that knew exactly what they were in for. At times flanked by two scantily clad burlesque dancers, and at others releasing flames into the air, the band’s Friday night spectacle was exactly what fans of WCO have come to expect and came out to experience.
This Southern-fried rock band which rocked the Maverick’s stage is a far cry from its debut in June of 1999 at Club 360 (a now-defunct venue just steps away from the legendary Horseshoe Tavern) in their home city of Toronto, having been whittled down from a staggering 13-17 members to a now comfortable five- (occasionally up to seven-) piece. Members present for the show at Maverick’s included Clem C. Clemsen (vocals, guitar), South Pawl Jones (bass, vocals), Curtis E. Flush (guitar), Betty Bullwhip (drums) and Charlie Chainsaw (power tools, percussion).
Gone is the once-giant melee of members sharing the stage with countless dancers, replaced with a streamlined stage lineup, resulting in a much tighter and controlled chaos. This is in stark contrast to the sheer madness of earlier years, when nothing was too excessive, too outrageous, or too scandalous. The fact that this new version is this good just goes to prove the old adage that sometimes, less truly is more.
Charlie Chainsaw served as master of ceremonies, regaling the audience with wooly tales of travelling through the American south. He acted almost as the personification of the band itself: drawling, reckless, and hard partying. Charlie led the audience’s march into a night of no consequences, a sort of bacchanalian revelry. Did we mention there was a chainsaw involved?
During one of the songs, while Charlie Chainsaw played the cowbell, he turned to pick up another item that at the time was hard to make out but soon became abundantly clear. Moments later, sparks begin flying upward toward the ceiling before raining onto the band in a wholly fantastic display of light, as Charlie took an angle grinder to his trusty cowbell. Soon after, he hopped down off stage into the audience with what turned out to be a flamethrower, spitting flames in time with the song with a healthy dose of actual heat. The showmanship of this band is radically unmatched.
Closer to the end of the show, Charlie briefly exited the stage. Moments later, as the smell of gasoline filling the air and after a brief struggle in getting it started, a fully operating chainsaw materialized in his hands in conjunction with a triumphant swagger.
Two volunteers then emerged from backstage, holding a 10-foot wooden pole with two industrial-sized rolls of toilet paper strategically placed in the middle. Charlie, demonstrating his confident, steady hands with the chainsaw that only comes with years of practice, takes it to the toilet paper, unleashing a constant flood of white streamers onto the audience. It’s a carnival of chaos, with the crowd meeting the insane energy flowing forth from the stage, as members of the audience gather up the giant mound of freshly shredded toilet paper, and throw it over their shoulders like a cape.
Besides the antics that the band gets up to on stage, this well seasoned ensemble is clearly adept at writing, performing the rock genre, adding a healthy dose of blues and country. Songs like “Cheerleader” and the latest single “Into the Sun” (video found here), as well as the old fan favourite “Put the South In Your Mouth” showcased the entire band’s technical skill and onstage dynamic. In this live show, WCO brought lots of vocal harmonies, an unrelenting rhythm section, and solo trading, giving each member room to display their virtuosity. Though the band has had many musicians come and go over the years, this particular lineup is as solid as they come.
Anyone who attends a White Cowbell Oklahoma concert will be blown away not only by the theatrical feats in their live show, but also by the band’s skillful embodiment of deep fried rock: their musicality is off the charts. WCO tours throughout the year, so keep tabs on when they’ll be coming to bless a “holy temple of rock and roll” near you on their website. Find them, follow them, and be sure not to miss another live show.