By the time Brent Amaker and The Rodeo’s show started at Neumos Anniversary party Thursday night the crowd had been primed well. The Mama Rags rocked out a nostalgic set that rode high on lead singer TJ Kelly’s pipes. I don’t know how to put it in a way that will seem as un-ironic as their tribute to southern rock, so I’ll just say their set reminded me of stealing 38 Special and Night Ranger cassettes from my Dad’s truck as a kid (what that says about either myself or my father I don’t know, the 80s were weird, OK?). Everyone else is gonna cliché-compare them to the Byrds or Neil Young, but these dudes are dead ringers for that early 80s state fair / arena sound that morphed out of the early muscle shoals recordings. It was a throwback Thursday for real.
Fox And The Blur
Fox and The Law followed with a rocking set of their own. Bands distinguished by vocals seemed to be a theme for the night as Guy Keltner put in a strong performance on his voice, which runs the scales like quicksilver from melodious to banshee wail. Fox and The Law’s work is split down the middle –on one side an homage to the heaviness of early 70s Black Sabbath, on the other, fresh faced west coast punk. Keltner and crew have the audacity of youth on their side and both guitarists make the riffs they peel off look effortless while bouncing of one another, and bounding off the drummers kit, but I think it was the rattle-your-teeth-loose, thunderous bass work that got the people dancing.
I’m a total fool for thinking that any of the above would be hard to top with Brent Amaker and The Rodeo in the building, though, because they’ve done good work silencing the ignorance of the foolish, and must say it’s been sometime since I’ve been to a show and found myself wishing the very next evening that I was back in the environment that they created.
Once the lights were doused a fog ran on the stage, ominous music blared. Bishops in mitre and papal robes took the stage and raised and lighted a sign that read “AMAKER’S THE ONE”. A nun in habits ritualistically swung a thurible full of burning incense. The Rodeo took the stage, dressed in all black, and vibraphone player Jacques rang a gong to announce Brent’s arrival. He took the stage in a red velvet cape and white gloves which he handed to the nun, and the show began. Even if they couldn’t hit a note, the show would have been a hit on pageantry alone. The back lit stage, the fog, the men in all black, and Bunny the burlesque dancer, were a recipe rich as a meal made entirely of desserts. The fact is though, that the sound was amazing; guitarist Tiny Dancer built perfect melodies with Jacque’s synth and vibes, to compliment the chugging rhythms built by bassist Cinderella, rhythm guitarist Ben Strehle, and drummer Bryan Crawford (who drums standing up, like Moe Tucker), and Brent's deep bass vocals rang out clear and strong. The set list went through some of Year Of The Dragon, their new EP Country Sky, and even worked in their great singles too, like "Nice And Sleazy", and "Pocket Calculator" (Stranglers and Kraftwerk covers, respectively). And did I mention Bunny? Her skits added another visual dimension to the Rodeo's brand of sleazy and sophisticated theater. As gorgeous as she must be brave, Bunny is striking as a nun or nude. She donned and doffed gold sequins (and swung some tassels) during “I Put My Boots On”, and, during “USA”, poured beer down her a-shirt until her clothes were so wet she had to strip down to her g-string, eliciting drunken roadhouse hoots and howls. At one point Brent cracked a bullwhip, the band never missed a beat, and the crowd was a frothy head of drunks, dancers, cell phone photographers. Everyone was happy. We should all hope that just one anniversary, just once in our life, is as lasciviously lush as Neumos 10th.