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Monday, March 23, 2015

Like The Wiggles for Grown Ups: Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band (WSG Bert Danger and the Flattops).

The Big Damn Band--So Delicious!
When my daughter was young.  She loved The Wiggles on TV.  And who wouldn't love a group of likeable, energetic musicians, singing simple, catchy songs about everyday life.  My buddy has been talking about going to see Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band for a year now.  When I asked him, what kind of music they played, he was kind of at a loss for words and then said "They're like the Wiggles, but for grown ups!"   After seeing them perform at the Machine Shop in Flint, I have to admit he was right...sort of.  Comparing any band to a children's act could be construed as the ultimate insult, so let me explain.   First, the good Reverend Peyton is an exceptional musician and one of the very best fingerstyle blues and slide guitar players I have ever seen.    There is nothing childish about his music or his band.  They are as talented and professional as any live band you will go see.    However, part of their appeal is the stage persona they adopt, able to keep things straight-forward and simple so that the band and crowd alike are swept up in the good time.  In this, they share a certain kinship with other great show bands like the Wiggles, the Blues Brothers and the Monkees.

The Good Reverend Peyton
Let's get this straight, everything about their performance is designed to bring a grin to your face.  Even their name is part of the gag, with the "Big Damn Band" consisting of Peyton on guitar/vocals, with his wife Breezy on washboard and drummer Ben Bussell adding some backing vocals.  It's a stripped down sound, yet amazingly complex.  Part of this is undoubtedly due to Peyton's mastery of his instrument.  Able to not only pick out the bass line while playing lead, he often incorporates a slide as well, and sometimes plays the bass, rhythm and lead lines all at the same time.  Until you see it live, it is impossible to believe that he can create such a lavish and textured wall of sound from a single instrument.  Coupled with his powerful baritone voice and driving, almost explosive, rhythms from the percussion section, the band turns every number into a toe-tapping, finger-snapping, get-up-on-your-feet-and-dance adventure for the band and audience alike.

Some Swampy Slide Blues
Like a scene from a dustbowl tent revival, the show started with the unfurling of the Big Damn Band banner behind the drum riser as the band sprinted onto stage, high fiving the fans in the front row.  Peyton launched into the deep, dirty blues riffs of "Raise a Little Hell" and the crowd surged to their feet and rushed towards the stage.  From there, the band launched into a high-velocity set of pure original music, changing tempos as often as Peyton changes his well-worn guitars.  Whether playing his  archtop electric for country-style blues,  a open-tuned solid body electric for slide, a pair of resonator guitars for the delta sound or  even a 3-string cigar box guitar just for fun, Reverend Peyton is a master of blues guitar.  He plays primarily finger-style, with a thumb pick to really drive the bass rhythm.  His overdriven tube-amp tone is spectacular and he uses few effects other than some overdrive.  His songs feature strong walking or alternating bass lines coupled with melodic rhythm riffs and intricate melody lines.  The band's newest album "So Delicious" debuted at number three on the Billboard Blues Charts and spend several weeks at number one.  This self-taught axeman can surely play those blues!

Breezy Peyton
The Reverend spends the show cavorting on stage, moving fluidly between guitar-hero poses and grooving with the other members of the band.  He likes to punctuate some of the songs by kicking over a sacrificial cymbal on the drum kit.  The band even keeps a "gopher" on stage who's sole job seems to be standing that cymbal back upright.  Adding some flavor to the mix is Breezy's vast array of winks, nods, smiles and suggestively raised eyebrows thrown in while playing some pretty complex rhythms on the wasboard (which she even sets on fire during the show).  It is easy to see that she has a real connection to her husband's music and enjoys the time on stage as much as he does.  She takes her playing serious as well.  From the custom driving gloves outfitted with thimbles for added volume to a mounted tambourine her stripped down rig nonetheless allows her to create a variety of percussive and rhythmic sounds.  From lightning quick left-hand strokes on the two and four count (like a mandolin chop) to slow clicking left-hand drags, she is able to create sound and rhythm that works with the drum kits, without competing with it.  While here pure, high soprano voice works well with the Reverends, when she lets her voice slide down into her sultry deep register it adds a rich, bluesy feel to the songs.

Bussell, a Bucket and a Bent Cymbal
Drummer Ben Bussell is a lot of fun to watch.  His approach is subtle, keeping the time and adding some drive without resorting to rock-star antics or "boom-chick" monotony so common in roots music drummers.  He smiles ear to ear and displays a blistering array of "stick tricks" during the set.  From the circus-themed graphic on the front of his kick drum, to his "interesting" choices in toms (yes...that's actually a pickle bucket...and it sounds great) it's easy to see he's here to have some fun.  He has a fantastic light touch on the skins and some of the fastest hands I've seen.  Together, the Reverend, Breezy and Ben are one of the most entertaining acts you'll find.  However, when you look past the good times and schtick, there's one hell of a fine blues band in there as well!

Bert Danger and the Flatheads
Warming up for the Reverend were Bert Danger and the Flat Heads, a cool little Rockabilly trio from Pinckney, Michigan.  I can't imagine how hard it is to open for a showman like the Reverend, and I applaud them for sticking to their guns and working the music angle.  That's not to say there wasn't some showmanship here as well, as Bert worked and amazing amount of the stage while playing his upright bass, and--when he switched to his electric--even got the crowd on their feet with a behind-the-back solo to one-up his guitar player.  Didn't catch the other members of the band's names, but a KILLER guitar player on the strat (though I thought a tele would fit the band's sound better) covered a wide ranging set list of standards and deep cuts.  I love that the band played covers but made them their own, changing keys, tempos and riffs to fit their own style. The crowd loved them too!  What a great night of music!

Random Photos from the night:

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