Monday, July 04, 2011

Fans like it hot at Hootenanny 2011

Eddie Spaghetti, lead vocalist of Seattle, Washington's Supersuckers, performed at Hootenanny 2011 on Saturday, July 2, 2011.

This review was originally posted on The Orange County Register Web site's Soundcheck blog on Sunday, July 3, 2011. My photos are published here for the first time and are exclusive to Rock 'n' Roll Truth.

Dropkick Murphys help heat up Hootenanny

It was a hot, hot Hootenanny this year: With the temperature seemingly positioned around the 100 mark for most of the afternoon, the annual festival welcomed a strong lineup of rockabilly, psychobilly, alt-country, Americana and roots-rock artists to Irvine on Saturday.

Now in its 17th year, the Oak Canyon Ranch bash still proved to have a few new cards to play over the course of eight full hours of music. Indeed, headliner Dropkick Murphys made their first-ever appearance at the event, the hard-rocking troupe bringing its blend of traditional Celtic folk, punk and East Coast rock ‘n’ roll to a gathering best known for classic hot rods, tattoos aplenty and vintage ’50s clothing.

Compared to Chuck Berry’s dull stint here last year, Dropkick Murphys’ late-afternoon set was the perfect celebration as the canyon finally began to cool. The long-running band from Quincy, Mass., charged through more than a dozen originals and threw in some crowd-pleasing covers to boot.

The group’s new album Going Out in Style provided some of its best original material: blue-collar workers rights were the focus of the propulsive folk-rocker “Take ‘Em Down”; the band offered up an emotive version of “Cruel.” Other highlights included the energetic “Peg o’ My Heart” and the bagpipes-anchored title track, with its punk attack and infectious chorus.

Well-placed covers included a super-fast version of the traditional tune “The Irish Rover” and, later in the set, a rowdy take on AC/DC‘s “T.N.T.” For that one, lead singer Al Barr (seen here with several members of the Parkington Sisters) conjured Bon Scott as the Hootenanny faithful were suddenly transformed into a mass of fist-pumping headbangers.

Yet, though more than a dozen acts performed on two adjacent main stages, only a handful turned in the kind of memorable performance that set Dropkick Murphys apart.

The first solid entry of the day was Luis & the Wildfires. The quartet’s songs hew too closely to Chuck Berry songcraft, but there was a youthful energy and spirit about the band that made it fun to watch. The speedy “Heart-Shaped Noose” and “No More Days” were highlights of the group’s 25-minute turn. Rosie Flores was even better, though her set was one of the shortest of the day (just a mere 15 minutes or so). Still, the Austin-based Tex-Mex singer mixed up rockabilly, Western swing and honky-tonk in five winning songs.

Anaheim-based Big Sandy is a frequent Hootenanny attraction who never disappoints. With his trusty trio the Fly-Rite Boys behind him (they also backed Flores earlier), Sandy brought his infectious mix of rockabilly, Western swing and traditional country to the party. His wonderful tenor and strengths as a frontman had him quickly connecting with the crowd during favorites like “The Power of the 45″ and “Jumping from 6 to 6.”

Undoubtedly one of the best sets of the day belonged to John Doe (pictured on the left), whose far-too-brief appearance featured his wonderful songs front-and-center. Opening with a reworked version of “Burning House of Love” (a minor hit for X in 1985), Doe and his excellent three-man band brought an honesty of emotion throughout their half-hour. Other selections that totally hit their mark were the aptly-timed “4th of July” (another outstanding reworking of an X classic) and the anthemic rocker “Mama Don’t.”

What happens when musicians perform a sonic brew that is equal parts country, classic rock, old school punk and heavy metal? Supersuckers answered that challenge mightily for 30 wonderful minutes. Led by singer-bassist Eddie Spaghetti, the foursome performed one great song after another: the rollicking "Rock 'n' Roll Records," the infectious "Go!" and the newly-penned "Pushing Through" all allowed time for the band to unleash a characteristically rewarding pedal-to-the-metal rock show.

Returning favorite Reverend Horton Heat (the moniker for singer-guitarist Jim Heath) is celebrating his 25th anniversary as a performer, so he dusted off tracks from each of his albums during a set stretching more than an hour. One of the fest’s most popular constants, he’s also one of the most predictable: once you’ve taken in a bit of the psychobilly sound unleashed by this Dallas group, it does become somewhat tired. That said, Heath’s strong guitar playing and the thrill of seeing him jam while standing on Jimbo Wallace‘s large upright bass without missing a note was impressive.

The rest of the day’s acts turned in sets that were alternately loud (in the case of Murder City Devils and Swingin’ Utters) or packed with in-your-face insults (Mojo Nixon and Roger Alan Wade) or just generally hit-and-miss (Royal Crown Revue, Powerflex 5).

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