Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
David Olney and Sergio Webb hit the stage at Maxine's Saturday night with no introduction or much fanfare at all. Olney was wearing all black and his usual fedora. Webb was sporting a waist-length red jacket, a crisp new pair of Levi’s, a neckerchief, and a very well-worn braided palm cowboy hat with a tall crown and wide pencil-rolled brim.
They both milled about for a moment tuning and otherwise getting their sparse array of equipment ready for the performance. They kicked off the show with "A Girl Upon a Hill." This upbeat number, complete with catchy chorus, was just the ticket to get the sizable audience's attention. This first of two sets would include a dozen or more songs, including: "Upside Down," "Sweet Poison" complete with spoken intro about Socrates and already corrupted youth of Athens, "God-Shaped Hole," "Jerusalem Tomorrow," and the ever poignant and topical "Millionaire." The two ended the first set by covering the Frankie Ford hit, written by Huey Smith, "Sea Cruise."
For me the highlight of this first set was just a few songs in when the pair did "Wait Here for the Cops." This performance showcased Olney's songwriting prowess meshing seamlessly with Webb's guitar mastery. At one point in the song, Webb hits a lick on his Fender that mimics an approaching police siren complete with Doppler Effect. The visuals combined with the sounds had me thinking Olney was a Mickey Spillane with a hollow-bodied guitar in place of a typewriter and Webb looked like a trick shooter from an old Wild West show, only instead of punching .45 caliber holes in silver dollars with a Colt Peacemaker, he was amazing the crowd with his Telecaster.
After a short break, the two returned to the stage for another set of 10 or more songs. Among these were songs Olney penned himself, such as: "Covington Girl," which was requested by an audience member, and "Titanic", Olney pointing out that it was written from the iceberg's perspective. This final set also included a couple of well selected covers: Buddy Holly's "Learning the Game" and Townes Van Zandt's "Rex's Blues". It has been noted that that Olney has some direct history with Van Zandt, the two having toured together. It seems to be one of Olney's traditions and a fitting tribute to an old friend and mentor to include at least one Van Zandt song in his live shows.
Within the old, thick, and somewhat notorious brick walls of Maxine's seems just the place you might find some of the characters that live in David Olney songs. Characters like John Dillinger, or a French prostitute ministering to young soldiers going off to die in the trenches of WWI, or even a junkie that robs drug stores at gun point to get his fix could have been sitting right there at the bar or upstairs seeking some of the other services that were once offered there, long ago. Maxine's is no longer a brothel, and the focus of the 100-plus-year-old bar is now clearly live music, really good live music in a room with great sound. Olney may well provide the perfect link between Maxine's past and its present.