Black Pistol Fire rocks Belly Up Aspen |

Black Pistol Fire rocks Belly Up Aspen

Guitarist Kevin McKeown and drummer Eric Owen, of the Austin-based Black Pistol Fire, photographed at their Belly Up show in January. The Aspen club also manages the band.
Aspen Times file |

From the minute Kevin McKeown struck the first guitar lick and Eric Owen pounded the first drumbeat, the sold-out crowd at Belly Up was immediately swept up by Black Pistol Fire. It was quickly apparent that the Canadian rock duo — based in Austin, Texas, and managed by the Belly Up — was going to turn their version of southern, bluesy, garage-rock into a special evening.

McKeown and Owen look like college roommates messing around in a frat house. But don’t let that and the $15 ticket charge fool you. They put on a show like seasoned rock stars.

Owen, with his signature shirtless neo-hippie look, strutted onto the stage sporting nothing besides a pair of athletic short-shorts, New Balance sneakers and a shaggy, unkempt beard. The spectators, mostly 20-somethings, roared in approval. McKeown, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, by contrast looked like a veteran showman. And, over the entirety of the band’s two-and-a-half hour set, he showed he was by effectively communicating with the audience.

Their first song, “Drop the Needle,” a raging rockabilly blues anthem, served as a platform for McKeown to display his impressive, improvisational guitar skills and stage acrobatics. Although Owen, on drums, wasn’t in the forefront onstage, his presence was anything but subtle; in fact, it became apparent that he was charged with the responsibility of maintaining the duo’s high-powered intensity. Aside from perspiring incessantly and taking frequent water breaks, the band seemed like they were in their element, thriving even as they performed at 8,000 feet above sea level.

By the time they played “Hipster Shakes,” the band had kicked it up into overdrive. McKeown’s guitar howled as he played a gritty guitar lick with a crazy precision that was reminiscent of the Black Keys’ early material. The sheer volume of sound was astounding. The audience seized on the positive energy flowing seamlessly from the band and the pit quickly transformed into a raucous dance floor. They followed with “Crow’s Feet,” a fast-paced, wild southern rock number, which was a testament to the duo’s excellent chemistry. Owen set the pace with unpredictable yet precise rhythm shifts and McKeown followed almost telepathically.

Dripping with sweat and heaving deeply, Black Pistol Fire took a much-deserved intermission. The frenzied crowd needed the break every bit as much as the talented duo. After 10 minutes, McKeown and Owen returned to the stage, re-energized and ready to shift into yet another gear that didn’t seem possible. Within minutes, McKeown was leaping on top of Owen’s drum kit and then somehow playing on his knees within a foot of the boisterous crowd.

With their next tune, “You’re Not the Only One” — one of my favorite Black Pistol Fire songs — the band showed its range, taking it down a few notches and striking a more lyrical and melodious tone. McKeown’s zealous voice carried the ballad, making it a standout piece. In an outstanding and unexpected addition to their lively set, they transformed the great reggae ballad “I Shot the Sheriff” into a Black Pistol Fire machine-gun classic. The tune was barely recognizable amidst the distorted guitar and creative drum fills as McKeown slid into a Claptonesque groove and Owen channeled his inner Marley.

When the band exited the stage with an Aspen shout out, pre-encore, the crowd literally howled for more. McKeown and Owen did not disappoint or keep them waiting long. They seemed equally anxious to get the party going again. They closed out their set with “Bombs and Bruises,” a catchy melody that evolved into a Grateful Dead-style jam on speed — a satisfying conclusion to a great performance.

Once again, Black Pistol Fire distinguished themselves on Aspen’s intimate Belly Up stage as one of best new indie acts in recent memory. Make sure you don’t overlook them when they come back through town. That ticket isn’t going to be $15 for long.

Will Kahn is a journalism student at Aspen High School.

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