When Paul Thorn comes to town, it’s a double-dose of entertainment. Thorn’s originals and select covers are all high-quality, but between songs, he is equally entertaining.
Thorn has performed in the Roanoke Valley both as a solo act and with his band. On Wednesday, he and his four-piece backing act hit one of Roanoke’s newest nightspots, Sidewinders Steak House and Saloon, for a single set that ran nearly two hours. And as usual, the between-songs talk was just about as entertaining as the music.
Thorn didn’t lay out so much patter on Wednesday, though. Sidewinders is set up for dancing, with a wooden floor that’s in shape for boot-scooting — most of the acts that play there are of the neo-country variety. Many in the crowd of more than 200 packed the floor. Paul Thorn Band obliged.
But he got in his stories. Introducing “Walk In My Shadow,” a cover of a Paul Rodgers-era Free song that appears on his latest disc, “What The Hell Is Going On?” he discussed a long-ago affair he had with his girlfriend’s sister.
“It was wrong, but it was a lot of fun till we got caught,” he said. Then his girlfriend played the “revenge game.”
“How could she do that?” he deadpanned. “She was a terrible person.”
Introducing “What Have You Done To Lift Somebody Up,” he told the crowd that a female fan had brought him a gift that day — a gift bag of Spam-flavored macadamia nuts and Altoids for the bad breath those treats would evoke — all in a bag on which was written, “Smile if Jesus Loves You.”
Thorn, who grew up in the Pentacostal church with a preaching father — the young Thorn was a boy preacher in that church — but with a pimp for an uncle, has always walked the tightrope between the sacred and the profane. On Wednesday, he had a lunchbox that proved it. The metal lunchbox featured his own painting that adorned the cover of “What The Hell Is Going On?”
Thorn described the outsider-art influenced painting to the crowd — Thorn with Jesus in a kiddie pool in heaven, with women including Thorn’s wife attending them. “In Heaven, my wife encourages me to be with any woman I want.” he said.
Down below, in hell, were the people who had never bought any of his merch.
Again, though, this night was mostly about the music — from “A Heart Like Mine” to “Pimps and Preachers” to “Joanie The Jehovah’s Witness Stripper” and “It’s A Great Day To Whup Somebody’s Ass,” crowd favorites all. This reviewer didn’t notice any new songs in the mix, but with that rock-solid and tasteful band behind him — including a great guitarist, Bill Hinds, who has been in the band for years — the show was still grooving and energetic.
Adam and Cary Rutledge, of the band Rutledge, opened the show, running through a variety of recent and older country hits such as Luke Bryan’s “Drunk On You,” Dwight Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs,” Blake Shelton’s “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” even Alabama’s “Dixieland Delight.” They sprinkled in a couple of Rutledge originals — “I Love My Life” and “This Old Truck” — both of which fit right in with the playlist. Adam Rutledge is a strong vocalist and brothers Cary and Roger (who sat in on a couple of numbers) have their harmonies down.