If you’re someone who goes to a lot of live shows, you approach them differently. A few are a bit of a hassle. Most are bands you want to see for a particular reason, be it a long relationship or curiousity. There are a handful where you count the days. Some bands are a mystery. At least the openers often are. The proverbial box of chocolates. The next big thing. Or somebody knew somebody who owed somebody a favor who decided to throw out a bone.
Any opening band that steps into Dinkytown’s beautiful Varsity Theater gets a dose of what it’s like to be an established touring artist. I’m sure it’s a rush. But it can be hard. You’re expected to keep it short and sweet. Make an impression and clear the stage. That’s a bit harsh but it’s reality. So I felt a bit bummed for Canadian rocker JJ Wilde opening a rock show at 6:30pm. Yeah, you read that right. It’s not a daylight savings kind of miscue. It was damn early and music fans were just trickling in as she hit the stage with the pedal to the metal.
Don’t look now, folks. But our cousins from the Great White North know how to rock. To my mind, they’ve stayed a bit closer to the source. There isn’t this extensive menu of genres and sub genres and blended genres. They don the fringe, grow their hair and beards long and turn the guitars up loud. Then they force you to focus smack dab on the person in front. Neil Young did it. The Tragically Hip did it. The recently visited Dirty Nil did it. JJ Wilde does it, too.
How do you say it? Canadians look like rock bands. They sound like rock bands. They write killer music.
Stevie Van Zandt once said that any band on the way up should play covers. If somebody wrote better music than yours, play it. You can tell a lot about the people in the band by the songs they select to cover. It’s often an homage to a major influence or role model. JJ rolled a righteous rendition of the Petty/Nicks classic Stop Dragging My Heart Around. If that’s your idea of cool music, make sure to keep an eye out for this band. But no more of this 30 minute stuff! Let the girl eat!
Now we all know nuthin’ comes from nowhere. There’s not much new or earth shaking that comes down the music highway. I mean, when was the last time you heard The Beatles for the first time? That’s cool, though, because if you can connect the dots, it’ll lead you to more and more bands that you’ll pay to see.
In the beginning, there was a Mississippi bluesman named RL Burnside. Now I’m sure RL would have said he stole it from somebody else down in the Delta. But that’s as far back as I go. And there’s this major limb from the seed he planted. Those deep blues had a serious impact on the punk scene. It was the foundation of that thing we call garage rock. There’s an entire genre of this deep, electrified blues that traces to that cat. LA’s Record Company comes right from that lineage. Music that’s straight ahead, driving and always loud. They fit right in a pocket with bands like The Black Keys, Rival Sons and Reignwolf. There’s a lot of us out there who call it their wheelhouse.
It’s organic as hell. Full of roadhouse sweat. To me, it’s as American as rock music gets. Mainly because guys like RL Burnside were wailin’ and bangin’ 50 years ago. And like Muddy Waters said: “The blues had a baby. And they named it Rock and Roll.” I think if you asked frontman Chris Vos if this was a blues band or a rock band, he’d look at you like you were an idiot. They’re just a band and they all play like mutha’s night after night because it gets them off.
Here’s what I mean by organic. It starts with rural blues. The rules are basic but nobody is going to play that thing the same on nights back to back. The music lives and breathes. You listen and drop in. That’s the kind of band that isn’t touring a set list. The Record Company plays a different show every night. It keeps them fresh and on their toes. That kind of creative energy is what rolls off the stage and makes us dance.
The last time I saw the band, it was a straight up power trio. That’s a classic configuration because you don’t need stuff getting in the way of a lead guitar. Some bands of this ilk will do it with just guitar and drums. When Record Company walked on stage with five pieces, an added guitar and keys, I was a bit perplexed.
They handled it beautifully. It just amped up the power and texture without complicating things at all. It still felt like moonshine and hand-rolled smokes. This is a three piece that comes off as really big. With five on this tour, they’re huge. The configuration also gave them the opportunity to swap instruments among band members. It’s no gimmick meant to impress. If it’s got strings, those boys will play it. Whatever it takes to serve the song.
Sometimes I lament the fact that music has become so specialized. Bands are trying to fill some micro niche to separate themselves from the noise. Clubs will cater to a particular audience or demographic. So what so many live music fans (particularly young music fans) miss by being too specialized, is how everything connects. There are only a few main branches. When you get to a band like The Record Company, that’s drinking real close to the source. It’s kind of universal. You don’t worry about what it is. It’s primal. All of us at The Varsity just let the power pick us up and carry us on down the road.
How do you judge a band? Well, one way is your watch. The Record Company launched at 7:30 on the button. As they played their last song, a wicked rendition of Getting Better, I thought to myself: “That was one fast hour!” Nope. A full 90 minutes had elapsed. I think you can judge a band by how good they are at making time disappear. The Record Company is one hell of a live band.