Rocked by the Bottle Rockets

There’s this sound I like: Grungy guitars, melodic leads, a bass somewhere between unobtrusive and surprisingly funky. Lead guitar is loud, but melodic. Drums right in the pocket. The songs are raw, smart, insightful, rueful. A little bit of transcendent thought, tossed into the mud and sort of kicked around. In the end they stand up, smile and kick back.

So many faves answer this call: The Replacements, the Clash, the Stones (when they were good), The Beatles (when they reached for the grunge, see also the kick-ass video for “Revolution.”) Springsteen. Wilco.  Never guys, too: Hayes Carll. Corb Lund.

What I learned last night: Also, the Bottle Rockets.

So I know, I know: It takes me a decade, at least, to catch up to the latest, greatest thing. This is a shame. But, better than never. Which is why I’m saying to you now: If you haven’t, and you even sorta dig the stuff I mentioned above, give these boys a try. they are straight out of the real thing. No joke.

So last night at the White Eagle saloon here in Portland. My buddy Jim urged me to go, he’s known them for a while. (Springsteen said they were the best band in America, he told me, more than once.)

And so chalk one up for Bruce, and for JD, too. The bar — a smallish place, maybe 200 people? — was packed. The opening act, North Twin, out of Seattle, were three songs into their set when I got there, about 9:35 or so. And they had it going on, too — raw and heartfelt, somewhere between Replacements-era Minneapolis and Austin, Tx. I was digging them instantly, the whole crowd was with them, too: despite the fact that these guys are not exactly a fixture down here. New songs, new faces, but instant acceptance: the place was spellbound, I’m telling you.

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Twenty minutes pass. The place was really jammed now. Hot, at least a couple sheets fluttering in the breeze. Then the BR’s came on, that throaty cheers that sound like a greeting to old friends. I’m the newbie, this was all news to me. And off they went, the super-tight, intuitive groove that sounds like second nature to a bunch of road-tested guys who spend way more time together (in vans, in line, somewhere between glory and financial apocalypse). These are 40ish guys, wedding rings in sight, blazing guitar leads and righteous vocals (spot-on harmonies too) describing the real middle-western, middle-aged, high-functioning loser lifestyle. Or maybe I made up the loser part? A lot of life lessons in their, though, a lot of battered-but-still-up-and-rolling.

People were in let it loose mode. Women dancing and smiling, the guys moving more subtly, with that lost-in-the-moment glaze in their eyes. The one pretty wasted dude standing near me was a trifle erratic, sometimes colliding full-body with me, knocking me aside. I looked around at once point, worried there was gonna be a scene of some sort, that he was edging toward belligerence. Only then he caught my eye and smiled, so cheerfully all you could do was smile back and let him keep going.

Rock ‘n’ roll.

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