Dustbowl Revival to co-headline The Temporary with Shook Twins
IF YOU GO …
What: The Dustbowl Revival & The Shook Twins
Where: The Temporary at Willits
When: Saturday, April 21, 8:30 p.m.
How much: $25/advance; $30/Saturday
The Dustbowl Revival never found a musical niche because it never went looking for one.
The eclectic eight-piece band’s contemporary spin on vintage Americana traditions has sent it into bluegrass and folk and old-time string band worlds, but through its 10 years of music-making the Los Angeles-based band has been in search of something new. They may have found it on a new album that melds throwback acoustic sounds with soul and New Orleans funk and dance-friendly folk to chart some new terrain.
“We never really wanted to be a bluegrass band or swing band or jazz group, there was always a more rebellious rock ’n’ roll streak embedded in these roots songs,” singer-guitarist Zach Lupetin said recently from Los Angeles.
The band’s wild live shows and genre-hopping style have made them a hit on the festival circuit and brings Dustbowl Revival to The Temporary at Willits on Saturday for a co-headlining show with the Shook Twins, which consists of identical twins Laurie and Katelyn Shook. Based in Portland, Oregon, the twins memorably played the 50th anniversary celebration of the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area here in 2014. The pair plays twin harmonies, layered upon acoustic and electric instrumentation, coupled with percussive and ambient vocal loops and a signature repurposed telephone microphone.
The new Dustbowl Revival record sounds like a turning point and a statement of purpose. Even the declarative self-title, “The Dustbowl Revival,” seems to come from a band that is defining itself 10 years after Lupetin put out a call for musicians on Craigslist.
As they got to work on the new record, the Grammy-winning producer Ted Hutt encouraged the band to embrace its grittier and bolder side, to toss out genre considerations. He also pushed the band to get vulnerable and dark in ways it had avoided.
“When you’re a live act you’re like, ‘Well, nobody is going to want to dance and have a good time to this stuff,’” Lupetin said. “But when people are listening, it’s often the darker stuff that really brings them in.”
Among the highlights on the new record is the devilish opener “Call My Name,” a soaring anthem in the Meters-style tradition of New Orleans funk. It was an afterthought, according to Lupetin, which began as a simple 12-bar jump blues song.
“It wasn’t going to be on the record,” he said.
But Hutt, he recalled, heard something interesting in it and encouraged Dustbowl to develop it — layering horns and some truly new sounds on top of it. That song, and much of the album, includes otherworldly experimental instrumentation. There are percussive beats and ripping electronic sounds that, on first listen, one might assume are computer-generated. They’re not.
The band’s fiddle player, Connor Vance, is a devotee of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan who is doing some groundbreaking things with his old-school instrument. He’s been experimenting with wah-wah pedals and distortion effects and an organ simulator to find new sonic territory for the fiddle — an element that underscores the fact that Dustbowl Revival is not a backward-looking revival act.
“There’s a lot of spooky things he’s been trying,” Lupetin said.
Mandolin player Daniel Mark has also gone deep into pedal effects, crafting what sound like hip-hop piano beats on his instrument.
“People assume that if you have an acoustic-based band that everyone only listens to music created before 1950,” Lupetin said with a laugh. “That’s definitely not true in this case.”
The traditions of hip-hop and funk cross-pollinate with Klezmer and gypsy jazz in these new songs. “If You Could See Me Now,” for instance, has a thumping beat that was inspired by a Mary J. Blige song.
“We want to create music that’s never been heard before,” Lupetin said. “I want to continue the tradition of creating new roots music that can both preserve a tradition and storytelling technique but also tell new stories.”
Lupetin shares lead vocal duties with Liz Beebe. Their harmonies remain the backbone of the band’s unique sound. Early in the songwriting process, they try to perfect the vocals to test a song’s mettle.
“If it doesn’t work with two people in one room, it’s not going to work with eight people in a room,” Lupetin said. “It’s a gauntlet every song has to go through.”
They devoted themselves to music full time in 2013 and have since largely stayed on the road, playing some 150 shows a year and building a national following and a devoted one in Colorado.
The band’s most recent stop in the Roaring Fork Valley was among its most harrowing shows. On their way to a November 2016 headlining set at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, the band got stuck in a brutal snowstorm that closed Interstate 70. Rather than cancel, Lupetin and his mates stayed on the road and scrambled to get here just in time for the show — forgoing sound check and the usual preparations and, at show time, running out of the snow and onto the Wheeler stage.
“We literally parked our vans in the back, I changed my shirt and we walked onstage and played the show,” Lupetin recalled. “That was pretty epic. But the show must go on.”