Friday, May 4, 2012

Wellspring & Honor, Hopeless Jack & the Handsome Devil and Parade of Bad Guys @ Grainey's Basement (5/3/12)

Funny how things can change over time.  I used to be kinda "meh" about Tom Grainey's--decent enough place, I thought, but not one of my go-to bars.  Starting with the Tango Alpha Tango/ Violet Isle show back in March, though, I've found that this bar has been putting on some outstanding live shows.  It probably helps that they've been working lately with my friend Keesha Renna of Vagabond Promotions.  Keesha ran the booking for the Red Room all last year, and she put together consistently superior shows there.

Keesha tipped me off via Facebook about this show at Grainey's Basement.  I grew particularly eager to see it when I saw that Portland, OR punk-blues duo Hopeless Jack and the Handsome Devil would be playing.  These guys blew the roof off the Red Room last year, but you wouldn't have known it from the stone-faced reception that they got from the crowd that night.  I figured I'd make sure that they got support from at least two people in the crowd this night.

Wellspring & Honor, a power trio based here in Boise, kicked off the show.  I found their casual, self-deprecating air quite agreeable when they bantered with the crowd, much less so when guitarist Marco Mancuso's high, breathy moan wandered off pitch or when their groove came a little unglued here and there.  Maybe driving up from a gig in San Francisco tired them out.  Maybe all the familiar faces in the crowd made them loosen up a bit too much (the bass player quipped that everyone in the audience was their personal friend).  Maybe they just had a couple too many at the bar before showtime.  Still, W&H played well enough to hint at just how good they can be when they're firing on all cylinders.  Their catchy melodies and pensive lyrics came accessorized with throbbing bass, droning riffs and ultra-syncopated drumming that, at times, evoked that Zen master of great rock drummers, Charlie Watts.

Next up were Hopeless Jack and the Handsome Devil, whose tossed-off instrumental jams packed more concentrated wallop than Wellspring and Honor's entire set did.  And they played those during their soundcheck.  When they really got underway, things got even wilder.

These guys combined the brute force of Led Zeppelin with the heedless, careening velocity of Hound Dog Taylor (the blues' answer to the Ramones).  Hopeless Jack's soulful, tough-as-nails baritone growl would have given Mike Ness larynx envy, and he matched it with his loud, dirty, heavy slide guitar (which he played so hard that, as he said when he stopped to retune it, he "knocked it down six keys").  Smilin' Pete backed his partner up with joyously rough backup vocals and fierce machine-gun drumming.  Like a good Walter Hill movie, they took the raw meat of the macho hoochie-coochie-man archetype, stuck its tounge firmly in its cheek, slapped it on the grill and cranked the heat all the way up.  It was heartening to see that this night's audience was much more receptive to their 120-proof take on the blues.

Local power trio Parade of Bad Guys respectably handled the unenviable task of following Hopeless Jack and the Handsome Devil.  The most telling moment in their night-closing set was their cover of Bob Dylan's "The Man In Me," which I'll bet that they took from The Big Lebowski rather than New Morning.  Lebowski sums up these guys pretty well: solidly crafted, more than slightly zonked out, not too serious or deep, damn good fun.  Their set consisted of friendly, goofy, drunken banter punctuated by sturdy, punky blues/rockabilly-based songs.  Lead singer Ben's plain, amiable groan (which had a hint of Kurt Cobain's raspy whine) and sharp, Billy Zoom-esque guitar enlivened original material like "Whiskey Drunk" and a Pac Man homage as well as their covers of Dylan and of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads."

You can find more info about these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.  And for any touring bands/musicians out there: if you'd like to book some shows in Boise, you can contact Vagabond Promotions via Facebook, email or call 1 (208) 283-0259.

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