Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Eastern Oregon Invasion @ the Red Room (11/16/12)

After writing this blog for the past few months and seeing all these bands from all these different parts of the country (and a few different parts of the world too), I've started to wonder a little about what the music scenes in other towns and cities are like.  I didn't know whether or not this show would give me a complete picture of the music scene around Eastern Oregon (La Grande, to be specific), but the chance to check out a cluster of groups from that area aroused my interest nonetheless.  Also, part of me thought that everybody else might be over at the VaC watching the Devil Makes Three and Johnny Corndawg.

I wasn't entirely right, but I think that I came pretty close.  I counted about twenty people when I got down to the Red Room.  The crowd would build to about forty as the night progressed.  Not nearly as many folks as the VaC (they reportedly sold out), but enough to keep the tumbleweeds from rolling through.

Two of the four advertised acts didn't make it, unfortunately, but each of the two frontmen from Sons of Guns stepped up and played a set of their solo stuff.  First up was Gregory Rawlins, whose clean, high tenor drawl and deft guitar playing got the show off to a good start.  I heard a few head-scratchers among his lyrics, but I heard plenty of zingers too (my favorite: "Holding all the aces while the deuces kept slippin'").  Throughout, Rawlins showed a clear love for honky-tonk tradition (more Townes Van Zandt, less Toby Keith).  Case in point: he wrapped up his set with a Blaze Foley cover (Lucinda Williams wrote "Drunken Angel" about him).

After Rawlins came his bandmate Mike Surber.  His straight-ahead strumming and strong, slightly pinched voice gave his music more of a punk feel.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, especially when he boasted his share of solid tunes and sharp lyrics (my favorite: "She's been a travelling circus: she's left a trail of clowns behind").  The crowd thawed out some during this set and did some whooping and hollering.  Near the end, Surber went into a merch pitch.  "We've actually got some Sons of Guns dildos," he mentioned.  That got a big cheer from the ladies.

Next up was J.D. Kindle and the Eastern Oregon Playboys.  Their tidy tunecraft and clear, sly vocals made me think a little of the Old 97's, but they spiked the mix with some jazzy keyboard and sax and some made-in-Detroit guitar noise.  Boise's own Louis McFarland manned the drumkit for the Playboys this night, and he swung and stomped so hard that the band dubbed him an honorary eastern Oregonian.  Speaking of Boiseans, a highlight of the set was when Kelsey Swope a.k.a. Grandma Kelsey hopped onstage and sang backup.  Rowdy fun.

Sons of Guns closed out the night.  I caught the tail-end of this group's Treefort set and thought they were okay.  Hearing their full set here, I found them much more than okay.  Placed alongside each other, I could hear how Gregory Rawlins and Mike Surber's personalities contrasted with and complemented each other.  They sounded just as tuneful together as they did apart, their bass and drums gave them forward drive and Surber's terse soloing gave them wings.  When they played their grinding, stomping closer, they sounded less like Uncle Tupelo and more like Led Zeppelin.  A drunk fell on his face and hurt himself bad enough for someone to call an ambulance, which cast a bit of a pall on the set.  The band played on until closing time, however, and while the crowd thinned out some, a stalwart few remained right up to the end.

You can find info on these acts on Facebook and elsewhere online.

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