Sunday at Backstage Bar & Billiards offered a well-curated showcase and marker of Reverb's triumphant return. Here were musicians whose work seriously complemented each other’s—a rock attitude with a down-home folk heart. The other thing they all had in common was stamina, because apparently the stage at Triple B was as hot and steamy as a summer night in the South. Fortunately, the performances were just as fiery.
My night kicked off as any proper Sunday should: with The All-Togethers’ Sunday best, spiffy wing-tips, tea-length dresses, vests, flat caps—the whole nine. Though as anyone who’s ever heard them knows, their retro roots are more than skin-deep. They served up their usual warm Southern style via bass, banjo, guitar and cello, closing first with “When the Night Comes,” a slower number with an edge that makes you feel as if you’re being stalked down a NOLA alley by a vampire. But their ultimate closer hit the gas, energizing the crowd with a song whose lyrics matched the freight-train sound. So much better for seeming less than all together.
Taking the stage in a casual but somehow still brash way, Paige Overton of Clydesdale fame took the dress code down a notch in a flannel and ponytail, but still prompted hollers from the crowd before heading straight into a rollicking solo on unaccompanied acoustic guitar. She joked that she was killing time until her band showed, but definitely didn’t need any help, twanging into a wet mic that she had “like 20 songs I could go through.” After she dried up that mic, her lovely range—from sweet Patsy Cline to no-frills toughness à la Joan Jett—took center stage as did her fast-paced, Spanish-style strumming. Closing with what she described as “a song about Jesus,” Overton finished loud and strong with some, no doubt, cowgirl-inspired yipping and wailing to best the “ki-yotes.”
By the time Dusty Sunshine took the stage, the place was pretty packed and the banjo was joined by its fellows: the fiddle, washboard and tambourine. Dusty is one of the most entertaining bands, never mind one of the best all-lady groups, of its kind. With lyrics that seem as fit for their band as they are for their subject, this “tough little tumbleweed” of a group was a crowd-pleaser, offering lead vox from nearly every member of the group—as if they needed to prove their versatility. Highlights included their tune “Babygirl,” which can perhaps best be described as a lullaby for tough guys, and girls, of course.
Jeff Mix & The Songhearts took the tempo down with some Zepplin-esque long notes before kicking it up with their Vegas-reference heavy material, which includes tracks like “Fremont Street.” This testimony to the group’s local roots is the only thing that screams “native,” though, as their sound is very honky-tonk meets smooth American rock, an analog heart that burns through our Sin City neon and EDM.
Before headliner Chuck Ragan took the stage, you could see fresh Reverbers filtering in from other shows nearby, anxious to see what the former Hot Water Music punk-cum-folk player had to offer. They were not disappointed. Six words: Billy Bragg, eat your heart out. Some people I know may say that despite my Anglophile tendencies, I have an over-fondness for the Boss, Billy Joel and even Spoon. But I call that “being American.” And by “American,” I mean the awesome part of being American: rocking in a really, truly genuine way.
This is what Ragan brought to Neon Reverb’s closing night. Starting with a long, sincere and extremely cool shoutout to the great local acts who preceded him, Ragan then launched into his aggressive acoustic-driven set, accompanied only by a pedal steel. But it would be difficult to notice any potentially missing percussive elements with Ragan’s gruff Tom Waits-like vocal stylings providing plenty of contrast to any melodic tendencies pouring out of guitar or pedal steel. Songs like “Rotterdam,” though, offered a touch of that melodic and nostalgic side that earlier choices did their best to elide. (There’s nothing more moving than when the hard show us a little of their underbelly.)
Gratefully taking a request from the audience, Ragan then strapped on a harmonica and launched into a few tracks from 2014’s Till Midnight, including “Vagabond” and “Wake with You.” Ultimately, he returned to taking requests during his long set, appeasing HWM fans in the house by playing “Drag My Body” and lovers of the Bouncing Souls with “True Believers.” Not everyone was evidently pacified since a fight broke out near the bar toward the end of the night. But the transfixed fans barely noticed, and the show rolled on.
Ragan’s title “Something May Catch Fire” perfectly sums up the tone and mood of the night. Something did so obviously catch fire ... we should just be glad it was the music and not the overheated musicians (or aspiring prize fighters).