The Watson Twins / Tim Fite
Bottom of the Hill; San Francisco, CA

Tim Fite is from Brooklyn, and The Watson Twins exude Los Angeles polish. In spite of this, they put together a show that seems if not authentically southern, then a showbiz simulation of such. This country flair is the ace that brings two very opposing acts to the same table.

They finish their summer tour off in California, playing at San Francisco’s Bottom Of The Hill to a somewhat packed audience: Fite is hooking the real music fiends with nerdy hip-hop, and The Watson Twins have endeared themselves to the likes of Perez Hilton and Grey’s Anatomy with soft country rock. There’s a lot of steam in that boat.

Tim Fite goes on first. From 10-feet away, he recalls a backwoods preacher or an oily circus ringmaster. See him up there swaggering and sweating as though by some undetectable heat wave, chubby and pig-faced, with big clownish pants held up by suspenders. Fite isn’t baring the dregs of his soul or even connecting with the audience in front of him. Instead, he’s in the grasp of a reverie, the kind you see in performers who have succumbed completely to their roles. He looks possessed.

Fite’s songs, which often sound like hip-hop, have more to do with the Soggy Bottom Boys than Public Enemy. The slow-twanged "I’ll Never Drown" sees him running from the devil, presumably down a river. On "It’s All Right Here," he spits Dirty South rhymes over a club beat— "rocks in the mud gunked out" and "guts in the trucks ganged up" don’t quite make sense, but they do present flashes of Southern imagery.

Fite sings along to a dorky version of himself on projector. He spins imaginary records on people’s heads. For his finale, he borrows a few pairs of glasses from girls in front rows and puts them on his face, geeking out. He even has a fake wooden boom box covered in glittering lights, a snide take on bling. These little tricks provide an intellectual bent to what could be mistaken as a frat house project.

All of this swagger and bravado are so distracting that one almost forgets the anger that drives a hard edge through the gut of Fite’s music. He never stops smiling — grotesquely — when he sings that “the rich get richer and us poor don’t get shit.” An animation on the projector, drawn on notebook paper, has its cuteness undermined by the title, “JoJo and Bobby Stab a Motherfucker.” Working class frustration fused with a faceless, absurdist rage provide the undertones that take Southern to the more complex level of Southern Goth.

What does one take down with such a bitter pill? Sugar, of course. The Watson Twins are accordingly the musical equivalent of honey. They grew up in Louisville, the kind of place where horse fields and checkered tablecloths and rocking chairs on porches massage out all of your fight... at least, one likes to think.

The first song, "Southern Manners," contains an invitation to “come on over for a slice of pie.” This seems about as likely as Drew Barrymore serving home fries through a drive-in window. Leigh and Chandra Watson are stunning: well, first of all, they’re identical. Second of all, they’re about six-feet tall with bodies and faces and hair like models. Their outfits are funky, sequined and modern. One just doesn’t envision them eating pie. And anyway, who does that anymore? As Iggy Pop so famously explains to Tom Waits in Coffee and Cigarettes, the pie-and-coffee era is dead.

Their low soprano voices twist in pretty harmonies over a soft blanket of rock supplied by the backup band. Yet while the music is robust and lovely enough, each song washes into the next without much delineation. Even their cover of The Cure’s "Just Like Heaven" takes all the punch and synth out of the classic song, falling on its face. Remember when Sharon Crow did "Sweet Child O’Mine"? Anyone who can get Guns N’ Roses onto the WB station deserves permanent status in the “adult contemporary” section. And it’s hard not to get surly when the Watsons mutter such trite comments as, “It’s so amazing to be here.”

They are writing simple, sleepy songs that are nice the way bubble baths are nice. This pleasantness will geyser into significant country music when they learn not to shy from contextual depth. Shelby Lynne wouldn’t be Shelby Lynne if she hadn’t found her parents murder-suicide-dead when she was a kid. And Dolly Parton sings with the strength and truth of water falling when she sings that, “I just never belonged/ I just longed to be gone/ So the garden, one day, set me free.”

Between Tim Fite and The Watson Twins, a complicated reality forms, a hyperbole of Southern culture presented as though from a circus or revivalist tent, then tweaked with the anachronisms of modern culture. Fite plays the wise clown, the inbred priest, the corrupted door-to-door salesman — telling ugly truths with an ugly mouth. The twins wash out this bitterness like sugar on collard greens, two performers with nothing to say, yet an utterly bewitching way of saying it.

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