|Are you ready for some country?|
Fleeing the rush of the crowd at the Grenada after Peter, Bjorn & John, we went to beloved hole in the wall Club Dada, where Sorta drummer Trey Carmichael's other band, Neil Young tribute Psycho Pony, was playing to a sadly sparse (and older) crowd.
There was no cover charge. Even so, there were only about 20 people in attendance, making the rather spacious Dada look like an empty warehouse. Too bad, because in a good example of "only the name's the same," the renovated Dada has vastly improved light and sound. We were both impressed with the clarity of the sound.
The Pony is a five-piece: two guitars (and occasional harmonica), bass, keys, and drums. Besides the singer, three of the guys add harmony and backup vocals.
We were disappointed to learn we had missed "Ohio" and "Alabama." Those are two of Neil Young's best songs named after states!
It's obvious, but worth noting: the reason people start tribute bands in because they really enjoy the work of the musician they cover. And they want to share that enthusiasm. This band did. "That's some good stuff right there," the singer remarked happily, almost to himself, after he finished a number. He did this on three separate occasions.
But you know, that very zealotry can be contagious. Every tribute band faces a choice: they can cover an artist's songs, interpreting the material through the lens of their own talents and attitudes, or they can reproduce the songs, as living radios on the stage, cranking out a setlist. Or, of course, they can walk a line between those two strategies.
The approach can mean the difference between a cover band going through the motions or pouring their hearts out in a show. And Psycho Pony chooses the path of emotion. The guys clearly love the material, love playing, and they filled that nearly-empty venue with a helluva lot of energy.
The band is very faithful to the material, but not to the extent that they're Xeroxing the catalogue. Sometimes the singer, Jeff Whittington, "did" Neil Young's voice --- and it was quite a good rendition --- but not always. (R felt that he was not consciously imitating Young, but rather just singing the material in the way that felt most natural. Either way, he sounded very much like Young on the albums.) But then on other songs he'd sound like Roger McGuinn, or have an almost Dylan-esque rumble in his voice (as in "Are You Ready for the Country?").
Of course they played the big hits --- "Heart of Gold," "Old Man," "Cinnamon Girl" --- but as Trey observed, "we go deep into the catalogue, so there's something for everyone." The bold choice to do those deep cuts definitely paid off, in the sense that their musicianship is all the more impressive the less you know a given song. You can really listen to a daring bit of guitar work, for example, when you're not taking it for granted.
(Speaking of hits, N would like to go on record here that despite being a fair-to-middling Young fan, he'd never heard of the song "Lotta Love," which was apparently a big Easy Listening hit by someone else in 1979. N is not excusing his ignorance, but is adamant that "Lotta Love" is not among Neil Young's top ten most famous songs. So there, R and Trey and that other guy.)
Where were we? Oh yeah. Listen, Psycho Pony is a talented band. All of the guys are polished and have the easy stage grace of veterans. They tore the lid off of "Cinnamon Girl," though not really hitting that perfect vocal note in the quiet middle bit. "Down By the River" was superb. Trey made sure you could hear the drums, the dudes harmonized well, and Brian Miller's lead guitar blazed --- he's a likely standout at future shows.
At the end of the night, a group of about six Mavs fans walked by. The ladies wanted to keep walking by, but the guys in the group prevailed upon them to go in. Soon there was some serious toe-tapping, head nodding, and maybe even a bit of innocuous air guitar under the table. There's hope for rock and roll in this crazy old town yet.
In sum: It's very hard to make someone else's music your own, and we don't say that Psycho Pony makes Shakey's music their own, precisely, but they clearly have the talent and stage awareness to let themselves put their own spin on the songs. They put on a good show, a quintessential bar band with a relaxed atmosphere. Easily a good choice for a night out with the guys (if your guys are over thirty).
By the way, Dada was serving late-night bar snacks: four tacos for five bucks. We got two pork and two barbacoa. They were very tasty and served with three kinds of sauce, but overloaded with grease and thus fell apart too quickly. But hey, drunkards can't be choosers, right?