Two shots of Black Pistol Fire at Belly Up and Jazz Aspen
If You Go …
What: Black Pistol Fire
Where: Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, Snowmass Town Park
When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 2 p.m.
How much: $89.95-$250; $35/kids
More info: Black Pistol Fire will be followed by Thievery Corporation at 5 p.m. and The Killers at 7:30 p.m.
The two-piece blues rock band Black Pistol Fire has defined itself through its ferocious live shows. Their chaotic, unhinged sets have earned the Austin-based band packed clubs across the U.S. and earned praise on the festival circuit.
But when they went into the studio for their third full-length album, “Don’t Wake the Riot,” guitarist/singer Kevin McKeown and drummer Eric Owen didn’t worry about the concerts or the limits of their two-man, on-stage approach.
“We put a lot of restraints on ourselves in the first couple records just to keep it very raw, very stripped down, bare bones,” McKeown said recently from Austin. “But as we were progressing, I found that kind of material was narrowing — it was too hard to hold back.”
There are still just two of them, but their sound is growing. The band returned to Belly Up Aspen on Thursday and will play the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience on Saturday.
Frequently compared to hard rock duos like The White Stripes and The Black Keys, the two-man setup of the Black Pistol Fire actually happened by circumstance. McKeown and Owens had played in a trio in Toronto. When they moved to Austin, they simply didn’t know any bassists to play with, so they started booking gigs for just the two of them. The formula worked and their wild, improvisation-fueled shows fueled a buzz around the band.
When they got to work on “Don’t Wake the Riot,” McKeown and Owens simply wanted to make a great studio album.
“This last record, I wasn’t focused on being able to pull it off live,” he said. “I was more just thinking about making a piece of art that sounds great as recorded material.”
After they finished it and headed out on tour this year, they realized they couldn’t replicate some of its sounds live as a two-piece.
“We were experimenting with a little gang vocals and hand-claps and double guitar tracks and stuff that’s virtually impossible to recreate live with just two guys,” he said.
But they’ve found ways around those limitations in live versions in their freewheeling concerts. And while the hard-charging blues rock sound of Black Pistol Fire remains intact, the record’s last two tracks offer a true departure — “Slow Knife Stilleto” is a homage to the Phil Spector 1960s girl group era, “Blue Blazes” is a sweet dose of pop folk.
“The goal was to do something we hadn’t done before,” explained McKeown. “And that’s what we plan on doing for the rest of our careers. … A lot of our favorite bands, they do everything — they don’t just do the blues rock thing, they do a little Americana, a little folk, a little disco. We just keep on trying to explore new avenues to go down.”
Among the fans that Black Pistol Fire won over with its live shows early on are Danny and David Goldberg of Belly Up, who signed on to manage the band after a sold-out show there in 2014. The band has played the show regularly since a free concert in 2013, returning periodically as its star has risen nationally.
“Ever since they got involved, everything has been getting gradually better and better because they care so much about the project,” said McKeown. “We fell ass backwards into a whole heap of luck hooking up with those fellows.”
The local club has become something of a home base for the band over the last few years, but playing to a crowd of thousands at the Labor Day festival is a treat.
“Playing small clubs, that’s our stomping ground,” McKeown said. “That’s where we feel most comfortable because we know we can make a whole lotta noise and get things nice and sweaty in there. But when you play 30 club shows on a tour and then you play the one big festival in the middle, that’s the big payoff.”