Sarah Shook sounded as good I’ve heard them when they and their band, The Disarmers, played DC9 Friday night. Over the past few years, they’ve gone through a number of changes,
going to rehab embracing sobriety (100% on her own) and coming out as non-binary. The songs were always great before, but Sarah seemed stronger, healthier, and more confident on stage — more comfortable with her music and more powerful in her delivery.
On a personal note, it’s encouraging to see them doing well; when I first saw them several years ago, I and several of my friends sensed they were struggling. Artists occasionally struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues, often leading to tragedy. Selfishly, I love Sarah Shook’s music, and would be very sad if we didn’t get any more of it. But more importantly, Sarah seems like they are going to be around for the people who love them — and that’s way more important than any selfish desire fans have to hear their stuff.
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers music can be described as country but with a punk attitude — and that was all on display at DC9 on April 21. The obvious country tropes are there, like in “Dwight Yoakam,” about the hard-country icon, “Nothin’ Feels Right But Doing Wrong,” and in the Western “Sidelong.”
Some of the songs, like “Fuck Up,” with its uncompromising language, may have a country-ish sound, but, lyrically, go beyond the typical edges of the genre. It’s an evolution of the outlaw country of the ’70s, focused on the lives and loves and struggles of working people. The songs are earthy and direct with just enough poetic turns of phrase to make them appealing beyond that audience.
There’s a wounded vulnerability to “Fuck Up” and songs like “Heal Me,” “Somebody Else,” and “Been Loving You.” Some, like “Damned” and “New Ways to Fail” and “It Doesn’t Change Anything” are pretty bleak.
Watch a lyric video for “It Doesn’t Change Anything” by Sarah Shook & The Disarmers on YouTube:
The set began with “Good as Gold,” from The Disarmers’ sophomore album, Years. It continued with “Talkin’ to Myself,” the final cut on last year’s Nightroamer. “Please Be A Stranger,” like many of their songs, is about a relationship gone bad — a theme that continued through songs like “Parting Words,” played after “What It Takes.” “Backsliders,” Sarah shared, was the
oldest newest song in the set, which was rounded out with “Keep The Home Fires Burning” and “The Nail.”
I’ve seen Sarah Shook and The Disarmers a few times now, and this DC9 show was their strongest performance. The changes Sarah has made in their life have enhanced their art and their live performance.
Here are some photos of Sarah Shook & The Disarmers performing at DC9 on April 21, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Ari Strauss.