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Live Review: Sarah Shook & The Disarmers w/ Eliza Edens @ Songbyrd Music House — 6/15/24

River Shook, lead singer and songwriter for Sarah Shook & The Disarmers, cuts a unique figure, even on the island of misfit toys that constitutes the alt-country community. As a nonbinary and bisexual person, they bring a unique perspective to a classic, hard-rocking country sound that hews back to the great outlaws of the genre, spiced with a punk fervor.

In their recent show at Songbyrd Music House, they played it, as Dylan would say, “fucking loud,” but with an underlying vulnerability and honesty.

Born in upstate New York, River grew up in a conservative, Christian household, where they were only allowed to listen to classical and Christian music. Despite these limitations, they took up the guitar in their teens, and the family eventually settled in North Carolina. There, River played in a series of short-lived bands before being pushed to independently record their debut album, Sidelong, with the Disarmers in 2015.

The Disarmers mix of roots music and blistering punk rock attracted the attention of Chicago’s Bloodshot Records, where they were a natural fit for the label’s brand of “insurgent country.” Bloodshot gave Sidelong a wider rerelease in 2017, and Years followed in 2018. Issues at the label, which are far too complicated to delve into here, prevented a quick follow-up, and River released Nightroamer on their own label four years later.

That record, as well as their most recent, Revelations, which came out earlier this year, found River going into deeply personal, introspective territory, influenced by their recovery from drugs and alcohol and coming to terms with their gender identity.

At Songbyrd Music House on June 15, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers kicked off their set with an older song, “Good as Gold,” which expresses fears of losing a lover, followed by “Talkin’ To Myself,” which explores the experience of mental illness and having a “bad brain [that] don’t ever turn off.” As someone who would likely lie awake all night, every night, tortured by my thoughts without medication to help me sleep, I found this one particularly relatable.

The set turned to newer material with “Motherfucker,” an intense expression of anger at someone who very much pissed River off. Several other songs from Revelations made their way into the set, including “Backsliders,” “You Don’t Get To Tell Me,” and the title cut.

Watch the official music video for “Motherfucker” by Sarah Shook & The Disarmers on YouTube (go on, click through):

A number of River’s songs resonated with me because of their themes of struggling and coming up short, like “New Ways To Fail” and “Fuck Up.” They also played “Dwight Yoakam” and “Road That Leads To You,” and they capped off their main set with “Sidelong.” They came back for a two-song encore, sending the audience home with “If It’s Poison.”

Brooklyn singer-songwriter Eliza Edens opened the show. She kicked off her set with “Ineffable,” followed by “I Needed You,” which she introduced as “a breakup song, for anyone who needs one.” The set continued with “Tom & Jerry,” which uses the classic cartoon as a metaphor for disaster, then “Leash.” She dedicated “Old Home Video” to “anyone caring for someone with a neurodegenerative disease. The set also included “Place Where I’ll Be Found,” “Keep You,” and a cover of John Prine’s “I Remember Everything.” She finished with “Hand In My Hand.”

Edens’s mix of electric and acoustic sound was a nice contrast to the roar that was the Disarmers, and her songs are great. So, of course, were River Shook’s compositions, which are among the most compelling in roots music today.

Here are a few photos of Eliza Edens opening Sarah Shook & The Disarmers at Songbyrd Music House on June 15, 2024. All pictures copyright and courtesy of James Todd Miller.

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Here are a few photos of Sarah Shook & The Disarmers headlining Songbyrd Music House on June 15, 2024. All pictures copyright and courtesy of James Todd Miller.

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