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Taping recap: Terry Allen & the Panhandle Mystery Band

A charter member of the Lubbock Mafia (Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, etc.), Terry Allen helped give rise to a substantial chunk of Lone Star musical style. Of course, Allen was long gone, off to his still-thriving career as a visual artist, by the time Ely and company made their names. But Texans take Texas with them wherever they go, and Allen’s unique take on the songwriting tradition he co-founded has continued to turn heads and blaze trails, including on his 2020 landmark thirteenth album Just Like Moby Dick, an album the Washington Post raves finds “new ways to marry his personal memories to more universal concerns about looming catastrophe and societal decay.” Returning to headline his own show for the first time since 1998, Allen and his all-star Panhandle Mystery Band showcased the album, and conducted a survey of his career to date, in a magnificent concert that we live streamed around the world. 

Allen and the PMB (guitarists Charlie Sexton and Lloyd Maines, fiddler Richard Bowden, accordionist/keyboardist Bukka Allen, bassist Glen Fukunaga, drummer Davis McLarty, cellist Brian Standerfer, percussionist Bale Allen and singer Shannon McNally) took the stage to wild applause from the crowd. Allen dedicated the show to his longtime friend and supporter Dave Hickey, who passed away three weeks ago, and went into the two-stepping “Amarillo Highway,” his signature tune from his classic 1979 album Lubbock (on everything). The round robin solos from Sexton (on a day off from Bob Dylan’s band), Bukka Allen, Bowden and Maines made clear what an amazing group Allen assembled for the show. He followed with one of his other Lubbock classics – the sardonic seduction waltz “The Beautiful Waitress,” before shifting from tentative love to definite destruction on the rocking “The Lubbock Tornado,” documenting a real-life storm from Allen’s childhood. “Disaster is fun,” he noted wryly. 

Next up were songs from the acclaimed Moby Dick, starting off with “Houdini Didn’t Like the Spiritualists,” a true life narrative documenting exactly that sentiment, as well as featuring a soulful McNally solo vocal. That was followed by “Death of the Last Stripper,” a tune co-penned by Dave Alvin and Allen’s wife Jo Harvey that acknowledged its title with the wistfully sad line “We’re the only ones who even know that she died.” McNally took the lead vocal for the ballad “All These Blues Go Walkin’ By,” which she, Jo Harvey, Sexton and Bukka Allen all had a hand in co-writing with Terry. The family affair continued with “City of the Vampires,” a song co-written by Allen’s nine-year-old grandson Kru that, once again, concerned exactly what the title promised. 

Allen introduced the PMB, before performing a suite of songs going all the way back to his first album, 1975’s Juarez, starting with the folky waltz “The Juarez Device (AKA Texican Badman).” The audience barely had time to clap before the group eased into the moody minor key narrative “What of Alicia,” which itself nearly crashed into the fan favorite rocker “There Oughta Be a Law Against Sunny Southern California.” Allen reached even further back for the next song: “Red Bird,” the first song he ever wrote, first performed on the TV show Shindig! in 1965. Moving forward a few decades, Allen said “This is for Jo Harvey” by way of introduction to the frisky “Flatland Boogie.” 

Then it was time to rock & roll once again, with the rollicking, Indian-flavored Allen standard “New Delhi Freight Train,” a song covered by Little Feat two years before Allen recorded it himself on Lubbock (on everything). He returned to Moby Dick for “Sailin’ On Through,” a mordant farewell that ruminates on the inevitable passing of, well, everything. But he and the band weren’t quite done. “We’ll end with a religious number,” Allen said, which meant one thing: “Gimme a Ride to Heaven Boy,” one of his most popular and hilarious songs, and a perfect way to close out this special show. A grinning Allen and the Panhandle Mystery Band took a bow to enthusiastic, well-deserved applause.  It was an excellent show and a great way to wrap our 47th season, and we can’t wait for you all to see it when it broadcasts early next year on your local PBS station.