Wilder than a barn cat in heat, Tony Wain and the Payne delivers no-holds-barred honky-tonk good times. The group plays loud rocking country music (bolstered by guitars, amplifiers, a full drum kit and a banjo) about love, heartbreak, and drankin’. However, this band’s style is not to be compared to the pop rock with twangy vocals and occasional slide guitar or fiddle that currently monopolizes country radio. No, Tony Wayne and the Payne is the real deal with clever lyrics (simultaneously full of irony and not ironic at all—more about that in a minute) set to good ol’ three chord progressions (plus a few hot licks) and steady drumming. Made me wake up the next morning still singing (here are those aforementioned lyrics), “How ‘bout this and how ‘bout that, I’m more f***ed up than a football bat.” 

At a recent URTV benefit at the New French Bar, the Payne took the stage following a showcase of rock bands, electronic music composers and belly dancing.  Now how did a country band end up at a gig like that? Well, probably because the members are veterans of the local music scene who come from diverse musical backgrounds. The bass player and drummer are part of Dig Shovel Dig. The lady on banjo (known here as Sugar Missouri) sings sweet back-up vocals and is a familiar face among experimental music acts. The man singing and playing guitar—alias Tony Wain—is an alum of the local rock band, Chops.

These are experienced musicians with a history of creating music together. The moment they picked up their instruments on stage the atmosphere was familiar and relaxed—in a rowdy sort-of way. From the first note it was clear that the party was not winding down, regardless of proximity to last call. The Payne’s set had enough energy to keep the audience wide awake. 

“I may be drunk, but I know what I’m doing. And I may be stoned but I know who I’m screwing”—another catchy and oddly thought-provoking lyric—could second as a mission statement for this group. For the most part, the band appeared to have done plenty of “warming up” (drinking) prior to show time. But, since the music is not based on intricate timing or chord progressions, there is room for loose playing. Loose doesn’t mean sloppy: These folks can hold it down. As if to prove that point, they performed a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers” that would probably make those senior rockers smile. Or sue for royalties.

It takes more than competence to play simple country songs and be good. The music has got to have a sincere delivery, coming from (as Hank Jr. would say) “living out the songs that you wrote.” Tony Wain and the Payne have aced that part of the equation, and the music is all the better for it. 

Tony Wain and the Payne plays the Town Pump (135 Cherry St., Black Mountain) on Friday, Dec. 5. Show time is 8 p.m. Info: 669-4808.

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