The Legendary River Drifters w/Tin Horn Prayer and Broken Spirits Friday, December 18th, 2009 Old Curtis St. Bar, Denver Better Than: A show where everyone was trying too hard to get that Americana sound.
A judgmental person might see Tin Horn Prayer and think, "Oh boy, another band of punkers gone country." But I was able to suspend such thoughts because I was immediately struck by the great layers of sound employed by this six-piece. It was obvious these guys had written the music, so no one had to show off and unbalance any of the songs. It was the kind of songwriting that comes from a truly collaborative effort, where the song is the end in itself. This allowed for great dynamic and emotional range--an uncommon depth to every song.
This was the debut show for Broken Spirits. Brent Burkhart, aka Reverend Dead Eye, fronted the band and played guitar. Bobby Jamison of Tarmints renown returned to his roots playing upright bass, and Alex Hebert, most recently of the underrated American Relay, played drums. Altogether it sounded like a really weird rockabilly band mixed with 60s garage rock minus any psychedelic elements. It was like seeing a swampy rock and roll honky-tonk band in the vein of The Gun Club or Songs the Lord Taught Us-era Cramps. At one point someone yelled for the band to play "Fuck the Devil," the Rev's truly iconic song, and he answered, "We ain't fuckin' the Devil tonight." Jamison's fluid bass lines, the Rev's wide-eyed, impassioned vocal delivery and Hebert's often startlingly creative and powerful percussion work made Broken Spirits a highlight of the evening.
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Even if you're not into Americana and dislike country, go see The Legendary River Drifters. It'll make a believer out of you. The band's sound is somewhere betwixt Woody Guthrie, Appalachian folk and an indigenous form of both of those sorts of things. I had the feeling that this was a people's band--the kind maligned by critics at first but beloved by anyone willing to give an honest listen. This seven-member outfit was fronted by one of the most charismatic singers with a powerful, soulful voice to match. The band itself was fantastic and rendered musical ideas I had long since passed on seem fresh and vital.
The mandolin player had incredible moments of riffing atmospherics that were a marvel to witness. Opening with "The Fly," these Drifters went through a set of 17 songs and never got boring. The set closed with an encore of Journey's "Wheel in the Sky," and it could have been so much cheese, but LRD made it seem cool. In moments electrifying, but never less than impressive, the Drifters played with admirable bombast and finesse. Critic's Bias: Americana doesn't do it for me unless the emotions behind the songwriting can sweep you up in the musical narrative. That was the case for this show. Random Detail: A band called Monster Boogie played between sets in different parts of the room. By the Way: The bass player from Tin Horn Prayer had a nice Woody Guthrie reference near the instrument's control nobs.