Reality Check with KT: Dead Man String Band; No Hype, Real Grit
I headed out to open mic at Wunderbar (Covington) last Sunday. They have a great thing going on there, very supportive of local music. I was going to meet up with Rob McAllister of Dead Man String Band, to hear his set and then do a preview for The Whispering Beard Folk Fest. Now, when I say “Rob McAllister of Dead Man String Band”, it would be more accurate to say, Rob IS Dead Man String Band. He is the whole band playing a Gretsch Hollowbody, accompanied by a kick drum and tambourine, with two mics; standard issue and a harmonica mic for distortion. He is experimenting with layers and sonic texture, embracing technology, while playing very primitive, raw tunes. My first thought was, this reminds me of those old Robert Johnson recordings I’ve heard. There’s fuzz and echo and extra sounds and Robert’s picking and haunting voice. Dead Man sounds very much like that; there’s fuzz and echo, there’s bass notes coming through by a very ingenious use of a splitter that sends the bottom 3 guitar strings through a bass amp, while the entire guitar sound also comes through a guitar amp and of course the picking and Rob’s voice. I’d be hard pressed to label this music. Experiemental/Punk/Americana? Maybeeee? Aw, hell, I hate labels anyway. Music is alive and as soon as you label it, you outgrow the label. I will say this though, and lord, it is certainly not to offend anybody, but I kind of expected it to be Folk. There’s a folk movement going on here right now and I really like a lot of it, but I honestly was so excited to see an electric guitar and to hear something that was so different.
DMSB ripped out 4 tunes at the open mic; Howlin’ Wolf and Pokey LaFarge covers and two originals-Cinderblock and Josephine. (You can check out an acoustic version of Cinderblock HERE. The later had a straight ahead drum beat driving the tune referencing Rob’s love of heavier music. “I’ve always been a fan of volume.” Growing up in Indiana, Rob loved the 90s Indy Rock of Nirvana and the whole Grunge Movement, later it was Metal. But more recently, he discovered the great songwriter, Townes VanZandt. He said he loved music but he had never really appreciated music until he listened to Townes. It hit me “here” Rob said, with his hand on his chest. He was exposed to Townes’ music as he started coming to open mic nights at The Crow’s Nest, beginning in 2012. After hearing some of the locals like Pat Kennedy and Buffalo Wabs, he quickly realized if he wanted to make any kind of significant sounds, that would stand up to the quality of music happening in our scene right now, he would have to learn to finger pick. He chuckled, saying I knew it was “swim or die”. (Side note from your humble narrator-- that is on point. You can’t half ass your music in this town if you want to keep playing, we are saturated with talent right now, so be sure to bring it if you fancy yourself a musician.) Rob basically locked himself into a closet for 7 hours until his thumb started to know what it was doing.
Rob had a hand written sign on the front of his guitar that I strained to read; This Machine Kills Hype. I’d have to agree, the machine, which is DMSB is far more than hype. Get out to see it!
Whispering Beard Folk Fest
Friday, August 22nd
Wunderbar with Lonesome Jared
Friday, September 19th