Hellish Magic

Richmond Fontaine and Hamell on Trial, presented by Sings Like Hell

At the Lobero Theatre, Saturday, July 8.

Reviewed by Felicia M. Tomasko

Peggie Jones’s sequined attire was not nearly the brightest spot in an evening of contrasting music. The crowd that descended into hell at the Lobero Theatre Saturday night was whisked through a program by Hamell on Trial vocally decrying the loss of values in the current administration along with a hidden treasure of a Portland band, Richmond Fontaine, whose alt/country/rock beguiled the audience.

Hamell on Trial described himself as being “like the Beastie Boys, except I’m only one.” His bald head and black-rimmed glasses belied the fact that he was like the Tasmanian Devil on speed, or as he described it, manic on caffeine. Hamell on Trial’s set was a nonstop riff, alternating from explosive guitar to equally explosive ramblings about grabbing the dick of his 19-year-old, pimply-faced pizza delivery job boss and successfully alienating the entire Republican contingent of a small, upstate New York town. He was nearly too funny to be offensive, although he tried with songs ragging on the physiology of political pundit Ann Coulter and insisting he would lie when questioned by his child about sex, drugs, and stealing cars. A testament to his angst and fury, Hamell had the crowd at the Lobero screaming “Fuck It” in unison, insisting it would make everyone feel better. His newest album is Songs for Parents Who Enjoy Drugs, produced by Ani Difranco’s Righteous Babe records.

Headliner Richmond Fontaine is perhaps one of the best bands we haven’t heard of, even though the quartet has been recording albums for 10 years. This Saturday, they played a number of tunes from their latest, The Fitzgerald, which featured sparse and simple lyrics evoking the often desperate, lonely byways and back roads of the West. Lyricist and singer Willy Vlautin frequently spoke of the dusty side of his hometown of Reno. But more than the lyrics, it was their richly layered music that was the most compelling part of their performance.

The chemistry among the musicians and their enthusiasm for being onstage was palpable, particularly by guitarist Paul Brainard, although there were times when the musicians’ protracted solos failed to keep the audience’s attention. Live, the band revealed texture not immediately apparent in their recordings, particularly on disparaging — but not depressing — songs like “Black Road.” Richmond Fontaine is a band to watch, and listen to, proving that Hell’s magic is unfailing.

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