|Not pictured: seventeen other guys.|
Entering the Kessler as the evening began, we were accosted by a fellow in a hat, vest and tie who vaguely resembled Jack White. He mistook R for someone else, then said, "Oh, you're not Philip." N countered with, "And you're not Jack White," which seemed to aggrieve him, as he turned away without a word.
When Fort Worth darlings Whiskey Folk Ramblers took the stage, the surly Jack White impersonator turned out to be their lead singer. Hello!
Unlike Sorta, this band was new to us. So what are WFR like? Are they a rock band? A country rock band? A folk band? Or a band who can't figure out what they are best at? Tough call.
Based on their sound, we guessed their two biggest influences to be (1) Tom Waits, and (2) Tom Waits' early material.
Ha ha! We kid because we love. WFR are a rockin', rollickin' six-piece, with a guy on harmonica and horn, another on banjo and accordion, a standup bass, full drum kit, and probably an empty jug in there somewhere. Sort of like Reverend Horton Heat or the Squirrel Nut Zippers, if they were obsessed with that Johnny Cash/Old 97's rattling train sound.
And then there's the vocal stylings of lead singer Tyler Rougeux. He's got a kind of nasally mushmouth delivery reminiscent of Michael Stipe. Neither one of us heard much in the way of lyrics, and not just because of the onslaught of the sextet's sound. At one point he introduced a song with "This izza songabow an ol lady wanna hiyo wumma," which did not help clarify anything. The fans seemed to eat it up, though.
We were deeply disappointed to see Tyler's beverage of choice on stage was water. "Whiskey" is in your very name, my man --- live up to it!
WFR did an admirable Dylan cover, "You Ain't Going Nowhere," straying from the original and making it their own. We felt he might have mentioned Bob's birthday, though (May 24th!). Tyler announced this song as "our last country song," and then the band began a song that seemed to have come out of the Tom Waits Clone Factory.
In sum: we would be very hard pressed to find an untalented member of the band. The horns shrieked like electric guitars, the drums were muscular, the music was loud but not muddled (except for the vocals). We did feel they should either take the hipster costumes all the way or just give it up, but musically, they deliver. And yet... we didn't come away with our arms overloaded with WFR merch. Was it because they've bottled that foot-stompin' Old 97's sound but not the energy? Was it because they don't seem to have fully embraced a sound and made it their own?