Music News

The Beatdown

Don't believe the hype.

Chuck and Flava said that back in the day, and how right they were. Losing your virginity: overrated. Lord of the Rings: whatever. Hockey: Don't even get me started. And this admonition is particularly useful when considering music. I mean, the Von Bondies? C'mon.

Still, every day I get the same patronizing phone call from some PR flack who comes at me like we've been friends since kindergarten and starts telling me how so-and-so is the greatest thing since TiVo. "Hey, Dave, Rolling Stone and Spin gave this band great ink."

Yeah -- and?

"They're the next (insert name of rote revisionist or garage band of the moment here), and they're about to blow up."

Thanks for the tip, Chief. Click.

At South by Southwest last month, Jason Bracelin, who holds my position at our sister fish wrap in Cleveland, the Scene, was a panelist at a session called "Alt Weeklys and Other Uses for Wood Pulp." Toward the end, the panel took questions from the audience. "What can I do to make sure my band gets covered?" one member asked. "How can I make things more interesting so you'll notice?"

Bracelin's response was priceless -- and on point.

"Write great songs. Play out," he said. "If you're doing something interesting, we don't need to be told you're doing something interesting. We'll know."

Right now, there's no band in town doing anything more interesting than Rose Hill Drive. And not a single person from the Rose Hill camp has called to give me the hard sell on this group. Not Brian Schwartz, its manager. Not some publicist.

Instead, the fans have been doing all the talking. Everywhere I've gone in the past few months, music lovers have heralded these kids as the hottest brand going. But I wasn't going to believe the hype -- not until I saw the group for myself.

I was about a year behind everyone else when I finally caught Rose Hill Drive's SXSW performance in Austin. It didn't blow me away. "Not really my thing," I said. "A bit more noodly and tedious than I prefer, with a few too many wah-inflected guitar solos."

But I kept hearing from those fans, so I took another spin down Rose Hill Drive. And right now, I'm chowing down on an Adidas sandwich. Because this band deserves every bit of hyperbole that's been spewed its way. Rose Hill Drive is the real deal.

A couple Thursdays ago, I caught the threesome at the Fox in Boulder, their home turf. They played twenty songs over the course of two hours, which for just about any other band would be ninety minutes too many. But there I was at the foot of the stage the entire time, and for a jaded, chain-smoking addict like me, that's unprecedented. There's no smoking in the People's Republic, of course, and I normally smoke like it's my job, lighting one cigarette with the butt of another. That's why after twenty minutes of listening to most bands, I'm out front firing up, chatting with strangers. But it wasn't until the end of Rose Hill Drive's set that I realized I'd gone two hours without a single coffin nail.

I'd been riveted by the interplay between bassist/vocalist Jake Sproul, his younger brother Daniel, who plays guitar, and timekeeper Nate Barnes. Every song was meticulously orchestrated, well rehearsed and performed precisely. Yet somehow this trio managed to make every song sound completely effortless. Jake, a finger-pickin' lefty, ran up and down the frets like he was trying to keep dust from settling, while Barnes beat the skins as though he heard someone humming "Hey Ya" or discussing the Darkness. And Daniel's searing riffs were punctuated with nearly flawless vibrato as he weaved in and out of the melodies. The sound was perfect. As Jake's brawny tenor leapt to the forefront, accented by little bits of spittle spraying the mike, every syllable was audible, yet markedly intimate.

The setup was as basic and straightforward as the music. Jake played through a four-foot Ampeg. Daniel made every squeal sound like it was being fed through a wall of Marshalls, although he was really channeling a sunburst Les Paul through a small tweed combo, with just a single wah pedal augmenting the tone. And Barnes played the hell out of a stripped-down kit that sounded gigantic.

Rose Hill's music is no-frills, meat-and-potatoes rock. It's not ethereal. It's not super-cool indie. It won't change the world. The band doesn't have a groovy name, logo or shtick. These musicians aren't fashionable -- in fact, they're granola as hell and look like they'd be comfortable rockin' the Lord boards. But that's exactly why I dig these guys. They make timeless music that will rock your, um, hosiery off.

At least, that's the effect it had on the kids at the Fox. For reasons unknown to me at the time, folks in the crowd began throwing their woolies at the stage. I've heard of bras and panties -- but socks? Since then, I've been told that the fans are giving a nod to a Tenacious D cut.

So rock out with your socks out, kids. It's the latest rage. If you believe the hype.

Upbeats and beatdowns: On Wednesday, April 21, the subdudes unveil their new disc, Miracle Mule, at Herman's Hideaway. On Thursday, April 22, Craig Maierhofer and Todd Lieberman and Optimal Frequency get dialed in at the Soiled Dove. On Friday, April 23, Playboy Playmate DJs Diamond and Tatianna manhandle the grooves at Avalon; Rexway, Carolyn's Mother, High Seasons and the Fong Jones Band drop by Herman's; Brethren Fast and Release disengage at the Toad Tavern; and Local Six and the Wild Blooms flourish at the Blue Mule.

On Saturday, April 24, Funkiphino celebrates the release of its new disc, Lovin' Life, at the Foundry in Boulder; Hazel Miller and John Alex-Mason paint the Soiled Dove blue; and the Risk and Los Muertos warm things up for Decahedron (featuring ex-members of Frodus and Black Sea) at the hi-dive. Drag the River roasts weenies at the Larimer Lounge at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 25, with Red Cloud, the Foggy Mountain Fuckers and Buckwild. On Monday, April 26, My Friend Betrayal, Dig 6 Down, Girth and Ion get particular at the Blue Mule. And finally, on Wednesday, April 28, Jett Black breaks in new touring guitarist Yogi (of the Wallflowers and formerly of Buckcherry) at the Blue Mule, with Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Dave Herrera
Contact: Dave Herrera