Bumcore from the Reverend's Big Damn Band: Recession Era Holy Rollin' Goes on the Road
The Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band consists of three people, and they are from Indiana, like a tent revival storming in from the north, displaying the furious sound of the age, "bumcore."
They have been touring for years. They will likely not be seen on MTV.
"We are practically homeless," says band leader, Rev. Peyton, with his big beard and suspenders and Depression era hat as the band continues a roubust lifestyle as just a bunch of neo-hobos on the road.
Right now we are in Denver. Along Colfax Avenue, the longest commercial corridor on earth, 27 miles, to be exact. In front of the Bluebird Theater, where the band is going to play, with American Relay and another local band, Slakjaw, one of whose members, sitting out there along the theater entrance smoking cigarettes well before sound-check, came up with the "bumcore" tag. Lots of souls to save here, for the Reverend and his band.
"Of course they are called American Relay, not American Relay race," says one, knowing full well what it takes for a band to pay $4 a gallon for gas, racing across the state in a compact car full of instruments and amps, to make a good gig ... even if it's just for one hour.
"Screw the Bluedbird," another says as something wild is going on inside as the Rev. Peyton trio goes through its soundcheck. "Let's go watch some porn," referring to the adult arcade next door.
Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band turns out, later on, to be a riotous act. A three-piece band playing with punked-out speed banjo and wild woman washboard, percussion whatever comes handy in Great Depression Two, the outfit belongs beneath a circus tent, perhaps, yes, but also on the same bill as the Pogues.
"We are a punk band," says the Rev says. "Old hippies, you name it ... the meat markets are not the place for us."
The band is a a modern musical revival, a foot stompin' delight to see: Just sangin' and bangin' those punk rock po' boy blues ... resonating with the economic undercurrents of folk-punk, to which, this is all nothing new.
Yep, on the front porch of the rock-n-roll up-and-coming scene, there's a neo-Depression revival underway. Just hours before the show, the Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, come out of their sound check dressed in their finest washboard wear: suspenders, fedora and even a flower dress complemented by red cowboy boots.
Blues-rock duo American Relay, late from the previous night's gig in their original hometown, Steamboat Springs, enter into view of this new musical damn-nation. They spill onto the sidewalk from a compact car with their instruments and luggage. They are as friendly as plain folks at a barbecue, smiling, ready to shake hands with anyone and everyone. They are both college grads, bright-eyed, sharp, smart. But without a band bus in sight, one immediately wonders what the apocalyptic price of gas these days means for musicians on tour, the very life blood of rock 'n' roll.
The members of American Relay — guitarist Nick Sullivan, 27, with his Fu Manchu mustache and Hendrix hair, and drummer Alex Hebert, 30, looking all 1930s with, again, the Fedora — have stripped their sound down to the basics: blues, rock, maybe a little bit of punk if you're feeling categorical.
Comparing their economy to another drum-n-guitar duo, the White Stripes, Hebert muses, "We can split our winnings better..." But then, halting, looking over at Sullivan, he says… "OK, accrue the losings more easily." This dry sense of humor finds its way into the music in interesting and satisfying ways that help elevate their songs above the radio-friendly masturbation rituals produced by many mainstream artists.
Onstage, it's easy to see why American Relay's efficient sound appeals to a new generation that has gone bland on the Widespread Panic noodling of the '90s. Their brand of blues-punk is reminiscent of Neil Young's Re-ac-tor phase, of George Thorogood on steroids, of the very dhambala of the blues on speed. It's the synthesis, really, of the bluesmaster tradition that created R.L. Burnside's blistering guitar style, the great grandfather who American Relay is quick to embrace: "He's the reason we are here," belts out Sullivan at the start of their set, which calls out to every white boy and girl in the crowd: Hey, poor boy, how's it feel to really know the blues?
Sullivan and Herbert met in audio engineering class at University of Colorado-Denver, where they learned the technical ins-and-outs of the business, but the professor who really caught their attention was R.L. Burnside. His music and style had a big influence on the budding rockers.
"He was the gateway artist to what we are doing," Hebert says. "No f...ing noodling or anything." Sure, he says, the '90s jam bands "did a lot for the blues, but we're taking business away from those bands."
American Relay's artwork for the 2007 album Corn & Oil conjures Depression-era roadside art deco in a post-9/11 climate. Like their music, it's an ode to tradition designed with modern sensibilities. The album sounds like acetylene sparks in the garage, like early Hendrix without the rocket fuel solos funded by '60s-era NASA. Music that finds a single, straightforward beginning and just sticks to it with razor-steadfastness, the visceral truth of rock.
There's a certain one-man-blues-band quality to it, and a true sense of gospel somehow leading back to Howlin' Wolf roots. It's as if George Thorogood had been served up for human sacrifice.
When told it sounded like they were out to digitally deconstruct that type of blues-rock influence, Sullivan says, "George Thorogood is still kicking it out, so he ain't dead just yet. And we got a lot of respect for how he does business."
Throughout the night, during the interview and after Reverend Peyton's show, the spirit and intensity of the tent revival is not so much felt as drained out through the sweat glands. At the end of the day, it feels like some kind of redemption has taken place: the audience drenched from the relentlessness worship service, the endless swinging and stomping and raising of the spirit, the cleansing...
After the show, blues brothers Sullivan and Herbert are waiting at the door for one more greet and a smile. Asked if there's some kind of religious belief system at work here, Sullivan says, "Not much of instituted religious experience growing up, but there is a definite faith in the power of roots music."