(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Concert Review - Dead Rock West, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers

30 May 2009 (Aggie Theater, Ft Collins, CO)
A Roger Clyne show is guaranteed to be a fun, uplifting experience. That's why I see him every chance I can. Fortunately, he comes through Colorado fairly often, maybe because he's friends with local legend Johnny Hickman (Cracker). If you don't know Roger, he was the front man for a great band called the Refreshments, mostly known for their big hit Banditos. Since then, he's grown a lot as a writer and performer.

Dead Rock West
It's hard to open for a band like Roger Clyne's. The fans are all psyched for his unique sound and songs and they're ready for the mood he creates, too. The warm up act has to come out and fit into that somehow and still show enough of a unique character to get the audience's attention. Dead Rock West did an admirable job. Overall, they have a country roots rock sound with some of that vaguely defined "Americana" feel, which complemented the Peacemakers. My first impressions bounced around bands like the Beat Farmers, X, and maybe a touch of early REM. Of all these, X was the most obvious, with Cindy Wasserman and Frank Lee Drennen providing nicely contrasting vocal harmonies over a punky/rockabilly jam. Okay, the music angle is well covered but what about the mood?
That's covered, too. The whole band bring an exuberance that is quite different than Roger's while still building up that party vibe. The other guitarist (Gregg Safarty?) bounced around with his Flying V to every song; the energy stayed consistently strong. Frank and Cindy have an easy rapport that adds an intimacy and depth to their songs. While leads weren't the center of what the band does, they knew how to build intensity, layering a jangly wail over a deliberate country rock groove.
The more I listened to Dead Rock West, the more I could pick up a mid-60s' rock vibe, like the Animals or early Rolling Stones. Simple parts came together to create something rich and interesting. I bought their CD, Honey and Salt, and recognized several songs from their show. The energy is fairly different than their live show, maybe a little more down tempo. It wasn't as hot as their live show, which is typical, though the songs are tight and compelling. Rocket From the Crypt was my favorite of what I heard them do live. This song drives strongly and has that wailing guitar I mentioned. The CD also has their cover of X's Burning House of Love, which features harmonies that are a little sweeter than X's. Check out some of the links and give them a listen.

Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers
Aside from the great songs, the real reason why people come out over and over again to see Roger Clyne is because of the mood he creates. There's a kind of openness and acceptance that Roger personifies and the crowd takes on as their own. It's a diverse mix of people. Frat guys, older hippies, bikers, cowgirls, and more co-mingle and the shared ritual of the show transcends the labels. Don't think of it as a hippy Be-In love scene. There's a deeper layer of pragmatism that recognizes that we are all flawed and that's okay, maybe even desirable.

The crowd is just as important as the band. We all sing along with every song. Roger turns the microphone to the audience and acknowledges that these have become our songs, too. The songs talk about Mexico as an idea (Mexico, Nada, Banditos), flawed relationships (Preacher's Daughter, Down Together, Girly), and the true love buried in those relationships (Green and Dumb, Your Name on a Grain of Rice, Mercy). Then there are the drinking songs (Mekong, Jack vs Jose). Roger takes on all of these characters and the whole band throws themselves into each song. This is deeply sincere music.

The first 45 minutes passed in a blur with no real break between the songs. Then the pace let up a little and the party was well underway. The setlist favored the Refreshments era more than some of his shows, but there were still plenty of songs from the recent CDs. Roger surprised us with a cover of Tom Petty's American Girl. Normally, he doesn't play a lot of songs by other artists. Another treat was pulling out Feeling, a real old Refreshments song that I hadn't heard in a very long time.

After the band wrapped up Nada and walked offstage, the crowd chanted, "uno mas" until they came out for a final encore (Tributary Otis). Feeling wrung out and purified, we all walked into the night. It was a fine evening for cerveza y tequila.

More photos on my flickr.