Muddy Waters certainly lived up to its namesake last Saturday, when Nevada’s Buster Blue teamed up with S.B.’s own Islay Street for a spirited night of sole-stomping tunes.
First up, Islay Street began on a lighter note with their Wilco-inspired folk-rock — emphasis on the folk. Between the postured vocals of guitarist Michael Easbey, the textures contributed by his wife Margaret on banjo and mandolin, and a properly rambunctious rhythm section (Dan Hughes on drums, Kevin Evans on bass), the four-piece showed a penchant for simplistic, pastoral bluegrass. Songs like “The Ballad of Indifference” (which Easbey insisted was not a ballad) showed off dynamic songwriting and lyrical abilities, while covers of Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Come Down” and Diane Renay’s “Navy Blue,” bolstered by a tight drum solo from Hughes, paid homage to their alt-country pedigree. Islay Street’s airy prairie jams came to a finish with a crashing energy that would have been great to see spread out over the rest of their set, but regardless, they made a proper introduction to the noise that followed.
Reno, Nevada may not be the first place you think of upon hearing Buster Blue, but the characters who inhabit their lyrics and smoky, big band acoustics certainly conjure up an interesting image of their home state: abandoned buildings, tortured protagonists, and a close kinship with the earth. “Resourceful” is certainly one way of describing their sound, which is brought to life by way of accordion, xylophone, harmonica, upright and electric bass, trombone, banjo, saxophone, clarinet, megaphone, keyboard, ukulele, and a cheeky use of bucket and chain. Despite all this, the focal point of this five-piece is undoubtedly vocal. Their voices join together for powerful harmonies and a capella chants, like the set opening “Rise Up.” Songs like “Tabletop,” and “Señora Galicia,” off their latest EP, This Beard Grows For Freedom, walk the drunken, indelicate line between folk-punk, indie bluegrass, and even ska, at times. Buster Blue may be at their best, however, with the dark, almost noir tunes like “Into the Trees (Demons at Play),” “Crows Come ‘Round,” and one song with massive trombone solo, which closed out the show with a raucous, climactic finish.