All grown up? Sure, but Rustic Overtones are still playing with as much energy, style, and originality as they ever have.
In the basement of the Franco Center in L/A this past Saturday, various of the Rustic Overtones are signing CDs and T-shirts, posters and packs of Rizlas. Jeff Beam is upstairs opening their benefit show for the Good Shepherd Food Bank and the guys are eager to chat about their new album, a second volume to follow on 2012’s Let’s Start a Cult.
Jon Roods: “What do you think?”
Me: “We were just listening to it on the way up. It’s so well orchestrated...”
Roods: “Yeah, we’re grown-ass men, now.”
Later, watching the seven-piece band, augmented by a four-piece string section, there were certainly signs of maturity. Some gray hair, maybe thinning in places. Frontman Dave Gutter’s daughter gamboling about. Dave Noyes’s epic Cosby sweater.
You’d never know it from hearing them play their hits, though. They opened with a huge “Hardest Way Possible,” a song they’ve released on three of their now eight full-length records (it’s worth noting that next year will be the 20th anniversary of their first album, 1994’s Shish Boom Bam). The sing-along that marks the second movement of “Rock Like War” was soaring. And “Gas on Skin” — well, from the extended, rippling jam to Gutter’s crisp and powerful delivery, it was as easy as ever to see why it’s been a live favorite since Viva Nueva in 2001. I’m not sure how you could stay in your seat for that tune.
Except there were plenty of fans sitting in the Franco’s Center’s plush red seats.
Hey, the fans are getting older, too. Just as there were plenty of kids who couldn’t help but crowd the stage, there was an equal contingent content to nod their heads in relative comfort. Similarly, while the Overtones may be playing live with as much passion and precision as they ever have, on their albums they have exchanged some of their youthful aggression and fire for a mature and worldly approach.
Be glad they did. The result of years of experimentation with ska, R&B, hip hop, rock, and Latin sounds is some of the most progressive and interesting music being made today. While almost all of popular music can be bucketed into electronic/rhythmic, country/stringband, and radio rock, the Overtones continue to forge new ground with intricate horn parts, layered keyboard lines, and lyrical work from Gutter that shows he’s never been more inspired.
The biggest departure from the rest of their oeuvre on Let’s Start a Cult, Part II, though, comes in the form of Gary Gemetti, who has now truly settled into the drummer’s spot vacated by Tony McNaboe and brought with him a jazz-influenced, quick and light hand that drives the eight songs here with a skittering urgency you haven’t heard from Rustic before. What he’s doing live sometimes sounds like the programmed beats from the Postal Service. Good God is his cymbal work impressive.
He’s best on “Martyrs,” where the horns match his Latin vibe and help introduce a guitar solo from Lettuce/Soulive’s Eric Krasno. Gutter is quiet in the open, but lets energy seep into the first taste of the chorus and then consistently delivers the hook with evolving couplets. Best is this one: “We don’t need no torture/We get obsessed over pleasure or pain/Oh, we could be mothers and fathers/We don’t need to be martyrs.”