TVD Live: The Watson Twins at The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, 8/16

The Watson Twins started gaining wide attention when they joined forces with rocker Jenny Lewis on her 2006 album Rabbit Fur Coat, issued about the same time as their own solo debut, Southern Manners. Since then the two have largely worked in the area of country, which is probably the most natural thing in the world for a pair of sisters from Louisville who have been living in Nashville.

Backed by a crack band, the two entertained an early evening crowd at The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, which has been attracting bigger names by also making entire shows available streaming and archived online. As such, Leigh and Chandra Watson spent nearly as much time addressing the wider world as they did the polite crowd at the storied performing arts center, where the two last performed singing backup for Kings of Leon at the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors (doing “Take It Easy” as part of a tribute to the Eagles). “We didn’t think we’d be back,” Leigh admitted.

But their country sound sounded sharp, and they immediately set the stage by describing a perfect honky tonk in “The Palace.” It was the first of a half dozen songs they’d play from their recently released album Holler. That title song began as a lament, Leigh said, written soon after the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, but she it got an overhaul to be a more joyful, upbeat song. With a singalong chorus of “Holler if you hear me,” it advises “Looking for a reason to hold the truth and carry on / Gotta keep on tryin’ harder / Why can’t we all just get along?”

Sister acts thrive on harmonies they’ve developed their whole life, and those work as well with the Watsons, though they are not as often prominently on display as you might expect. The pair does plays up the twin bit. They came in matching shiny red and gold dresses with hearts (though Leigh goes for a shorter hemline than her sister). They often played identical acoustic guitars (though they switched off) and style their long, jet black hair similarly.

At its worst, they brought to mind the cheesy lounge act vibe of the Sweeney Sisters from “Saturday Night Live,” especially when they did did some cutesy choreography with synchronized strolls and dips to an old-timey song called “Cry Baby.” “We’ve been doing choreographed dance moves since we were eight years old,” Leigh said. But they were given ample punch by a Nashville band led by guitarist Steven Cooper, who often turned to a David Lindley-like slide guitar but was also what they called the guy “who brings the rock ’n’ roll to the outfit.”

Their only direct nod to rock though was their cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven,” which soared on its familiar guitar riff and had a little harmonica flavoring form Chandra. The other standout in the four-piece band was keyboardist Thayer Sarrano, who once toured with Of Montreal, Cracker, and Camper Van Beethoven as well as releasing a handful of her own solo albums. Flying in especially for the gig, she was fun to watch pounding out ferocious solos.

While many in Nashville with a close rock pedigree aim for an alt-country approach, the Watson Twins have been so used to pleasing bigger audiences, there’s little alternative about them. But there’s a lot to like in their engaging songs and improving writing.

The Palace
Rolling Thunder
Southern Manners
Honky Tonk Heart
Cry Baby
Just Like Heaven
Devil in You
Playing Hearts
Never Be Another You
Sissy Said
Hustle and Shake
Two Timin’

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