Bad Luck City, Kal Cahoone and Death Rides West each have an affinity for varying degrees of darkness, which is evident both in all three act's lyrics and music. So it made for an ideal bill having where all three bands shared similar sensibilities.
Death Rides West, whose name perfectly fits the music, opened the show with a set of dusty tunes, some of which were steeped in sinister Americana while other tunes were soaked more in the spaghetti western scores of Ennio Morricone. Or "Crooked Path," whose rumba groove shared a certain kinship with Tom Waits' wonderful "Jockey Full of Bourbon."
At times sounding like a murkier version of Lee Hazelwood, but with a deeper voice, Death Rides West's singer Al Trout sang about ghosts, vampires, devils and outlaws, among other things, while thumping beats on two small wooden boxes with his black cowboy boots. Throughout the set, Cody Tantalo added some tasty and twangy guitar riffage to the mix, while also holding down the pulse on kick drum and hi-hat.
A few songs into Kal Cahoone & the Dirty Pretty's set, Cahoone commented, "I wish I could say we're going to pick things up, but we're not." And indeed, nearly all of her songs, which were backed by guitarist Al Scholl and drummer Christopher Nelson, were unhurried and deliberate, and the slower tempos compliment her vocals, especially on songs like "Fellow Sparrow," "St. Augstine" and "Evita."
Bad Luck City and former Tarantella violinist Kelly O'Dea joined the group for a few songs, including, "Los Peces," which Cahoone sung in Spanish. Cahoone, who had been switching back and forth between accordion and keyboard the whole set, dedicated the last song, "Build the Fire," to Terry Barton, the former forestry worker who started the 2002 Hayman Fire. Scholl added some stunning atmospheric guitar work on the tune, which was one of the set's highlights.
Early on Bad Luck City's set, the band, dressed in black suits with O'Dea in a dress, played on a dimly lit stage, which enhanced the act's music and frontman's Dameon Merkl's penchant for things dark and grotesque. After "Suffer the Day" and "Suspect," the band started off "Bones" slow and gradually built it up into a ferocious climax powered by guitarists Josh Perry and Greg Kammerer, bassist Jeremy Ziehe and drummer Andrew Warner.
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Merkyl prefaced the song "Stealth" by saying, "This song is about hunting demons. You all know how that goes. And I don't mean in like a crusade way, but in a cool way." The slow and chugging tune built into an energetic pinnacle with Merkl screaming.
"This next song is about if you're a young man, impressionable to the ways of the world, you should never go to Boulder, Colorado, because you're bound to find a girl who has a razor blade, who wants to cut you up and drink your blood," Merkl joked. "We all know how that goes."
With that, the six-piece went to into the snappy waltz of "Rotten Mess." At one point in the song, Merkl seemed to be mimicking Mike Muir's "all I wanted was a Pepsi" rant on the Suicidal Tendencies song "Institutionalized." Bad Luck City rounded out an outstanding set with "Unclean Evening," "The Widow of Frances Oliver," "Blood Trail" and "Night Town."
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: A completely ideal bill of three great acts. Random Detail: Death Rides West frontman was wearing a killer western shirt with skulls and roses on it. By the Way: Death Rides West, who has been together for about a year, recently went from a four-piece to a duo.