I spent a good part of my Memorial Day vacation in the friendly confines of The State Room.
The Salt Lake City venue has become one of the best places in the West to listen to a fine blend of styles of touring acts for the over-21 crowd. The 300-capacity venue offers superb sound, plus dance areas and raked seating, both. The combination of the two offers not a bad seat, musically or visually, in the entire house. Musically, the room can handle both solo acts and full bands with aplomb.
This weekend brought two headlining roots bands to town -- one from the borderland and one from the heartland. Arizona/Sonora-based artists, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, swept into town like a dust devil on Friday, May 25. The BoDeans, revamped without co-founder Sam Llamas in the lineup, were there for a show on Sunday, May 27.
Starting out the night of music Friday evening was Buffalo Jones, an impressive rock outfit from Spokane, Wash. The audience, most clearly there for Roger Clyne (the many sombreros in the crowd told that story), were honestly appreciative of this talented quartet. Buffalo Jones' guitar player, Brandon Humphries, sure helps make this a band to watch, offering up rocking, tasteful lead lines to fine original tunes.
But the band of the night was Roger Clyne's, a man who writes evocative songs of the Southwest, a place he calls home. You might know him only from his instrumental theme song for "King of the Hill," but Clyne's lyrics document his culture in the 1990s and early 2000s as surely as Jimmy Buffett helped define the Florida Keys in the 1970s.
Sure, Clyne writes about lost loves, partying in the sunshine and grooving on the Baja Sea beaches, but he also examines the stories native to the porous land of the Arizona/Sonora border and the various black-market businesses that make that country home. By telling those stories, he is documenting a culture not often seen by much of the country.
The be-hatted many in the crowd were quickly explained by Clyne, who was holding a tour contest for the craziest sombrero. A gent with a hat that changed colors via Christmas lights lining the brim won the night. The band documented this, and much of the show, with a video camera, recently purchased at Walmart, that clipped onto guitars, horns, drums and more -- and was at last handed to the capacity crowd to finish shooting the night. The band then promised the film would appear later on the band's website.
Clyne played his "King of the Hill" theme, as well as "Banditos," a national hit Clyne had when he and still-drummer P.H. Naffah were in The Refreshments. The group also went fairly deep into their latest release, 2011's "Unida Cantina," including the mariachi-tinged standout, "Maria," and a song about the thing that makes the world go round -- "Dinero."
Clyne is a good-looking man with oodles of stage presence and a flexible, solid singing voice -- a guy who knows how to work a crowd and a band, with musicians who seem to love to play his infectious music.
The standout band member nowadays is the newest, guitarist Jim Dalton, formerly of The Derailers. He is an ace with licks and pizazz to spare. His twangy style fits terrifically with Clyne's self-styled Southwestern rock sound.
Sunday night's show with the BoDeans was also near-capacity. This roots outfit has musical roots that stretch back more than 25 years into the Midwest rock scene. Sammy Llamas, the band's co-founder along with Kurt Neumann, left earlier this year. But Neumann, living for a number of years outside of Austin, Texas, has forged ahead with his brand of rock 'n' roll, with a new album to arrive June 16 called "American Made."
The band, which still has the signature accordion and keys of Michael Ramos in the mix, as well as longtime drummer Noah Levy, now also has Austin fiddle phenom Warren Hood and guitarist Jake Owen adding to its crunchy sound.
The old and familiar tunes, like "Ballad of Jenny Ray" and "Idaho," sounded fresh and tasty with this lineup, as did the nice mix of new songs from the forthcoming album. The new ones include a solid remake of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire," as well as Neumann compositions, like the moving prison song "Flyaway."
"American" talks of the divided country, about the great fortune of being from the land of the free -- and the fear it won't always be such a place.
Every members of the band is a craftsman who knows how to play spot-on and how to keep a party going. As a frontman, Neumann keeps it low-key but very friendly, chatting with the audience in between songs, explaining the origins of many.
These two shows, made of honest American rock, were a wonderful way to launch the summer concert season.