The powers that be tell us the patriarchy is good for us. Lee Bains has some words (and songs) about that.
Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires rolled through—ahem, blazed through—the EARL in Atlanta last night along with openers Loamlands and Hunger Anthem. My friend/fellow writer and I weren’t particularly scouting for anything notable to write about last night. Simply having a regular night out in East Atlanta Village, we planned to attend this show hours before it happened. But what we saw left my head spinning, so I couldn’t help but write about it.
Our timing placed us in the back room of the EARL just in time to catch Loamlands, a country music outfit from Durham, North Carolina. The label “country music” almost feels too rigid; the band’s set consisted of songs that were heady yet wholesome, pensive yet dancey, romantic yet rebellious, and all through this distorted concoction of electrified country and indie rock. Singer/guitarist Kym Register interjected between songs to comment on the importance of speaking up as a queer person in the South and making it known that “we exist.” Once they realized their perspective was not only accepted, but welcomed, Kym continued to speak out more.
Having just played the Pride Festival in Durham, Kym explained the following song was about “Pride being a riot… not one about Bud Light.” In between songs while tuning their guitar, Kym promised they would cease the chatter to continue playing and then cutely grinned, saying, “I love queers. OkayI’mgonnastoptalkingnow.” Giving first listeners an invitation to the personal remnants of their story, Loamlands made it clear they are speaking for someone: those in the LGBTQ community who have been subject to discrimination and abuse. The set ended with a song about “having the dream of killing your abuser, which is an important dream to have.”
One smoke break and small-talk session later, we walked back into the venue to hear the distorted crackling and rabble-rousing of the beginnings of the Glory Fires’ set. I’d seen Lee & Co. a few times before, but never like this. Never from start to finish (which I now regret) and never so loud and clear.
Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires is known for being politically charged and outspoken in the band’s unabridged Southern rock-country-punk-Americana transfusion, so I was expecting a bit of commentary from Lee regarding current political events. The truth is, there is never a shortage of injustice and corruption in our political systems and there will always be plenty to push up against.
He kicked off the set speaking about the border wall, saying the next song is a response to those in power who think building a wall is a solution to any problem. This provoked one man in the crowd wearing a U.S. Army hat to make his way to the front of the stage, wagging his fingers at Lee while Lee ferociously riffed on his guitar with sweat flinging off his brow. “This is a song for free people, sir. And if you can’t handle that shit, you can get the fuck out,” Lee said.
A handful of fans were standing frontline singing along to every word like an anthem, throwing fists up and banging heads. As for myself, I typically watch shows at the EARL hanging by the same tattered pole near stage left. But for this one, at some point almost unbeknownst to me, I was pulled to the front and center where I stayed glued the entire set. Even in the midst of people barreling around in the front while Lee jumped over the PAs and down into the crowd, at one point handing off his guitar.
Lee talks a lot, and let this serve as an example to any artist who may feel the need to be quiet or apologetic: there is no need to hush on the stage (or any arena, really). Not only do we exist, but we are here to be loud and be heard. Even if there is one dude in the crowd who rejects what you’re saying, drop the one and focus on the other 10, 20, 50 people there hanging in awe with what you’re saying.
Throughout the 45-minute set, Lee rifled through subjects ranging from the border wall to reproductive rights to lizard people to binaries to sharing stories about his grandmother to interrogating our language to calling out certain men in power (coughBRIANKEMPcough) pretending to be good ol’ boys (a good ol’ Southern burn if you’d never heard one) to crooked letters to calls for unity. It was incredibly refreshing and invigorating to witness a musician be so viscerally vocal in their political views and intensely vulnerable in their stance towards what’s happening in the world today. Especially while on stage—one of the most vulnerable places there is—ultimately not giving a shit about what anybody thought about it. Because if we’re not expressing ourselves through our art, whatever that medium that may be, then what the fuck are we creating it for? If we’re doing this in the business of ambivalence and apathy, it’s time to close down and take stock. Otherwise, we could very well fall asleep to what’s happening in our world and lose touch with each other.
Lee performed “There is a Bomb in Gilead” (a track inspired by both his grandmother and the Gaza bombings) solo while the rest of the band members stood silently as he played riffs that could convince anyone who wasn’t in attendance that there were at least two guitars live. A lot of power coming from one dude and his guitar. Following this, Lee shared about the next song in what was probably the most impactful of his mini-speeches this evening.
“When my grandmama was about 89 years old, I found out for the first time in my life that the choir that she directed—the church that she directed at, that I grew up singing at—was in the 1960s the home church of one of the most vicious people in the history of the South who committed some of the worst human atrocities of the 20th century. His name was Bull Connor. And he was a self-appointed Public Safety Commissioner in Birmingham. Which is an ironic title, because he was the one who made the decisions to sick police dogs and turn fire hoses on innocent women and children and people marching for their rights in the streets of Birmingham. This song’s a reflection on the fact that I learned from my grandparents: that good people, if they look the other way, can contribute and enable fucked up shit. I don’t believe that there are evil people out there, that they’re just evil and not worth a shit. We all have a little bit of evil in us. But if we don’t look at each other and try to help each other do right and do better and learn from where we’re fuckin’ up, then we’re gonna enable that behavior in our neighbors. So this is about learning from that experience and not letting that shit happen again in these streets.”
By the show’s end, I felt like I’d spent the night at a protest and woken up to some hefty truths delivered through the channels of this “real Alabama rock-n-roll.” One person commented that they weren’t sure what office Lee was running for, but they were sure as hell going to vote for him. I’m down with that sentiment.
Fuck it, let’s run it. Lee Bains for office (any office) 2020.
Full set recording below.