Monday, December 7, 2009

Screaming the Blues

The Red 100s
Bill's Records (Dallas), 12/5

Raul, guitar player for The Red 100s, has this stage move where he flicks his head back a little, hits a downstroke with particular emphasis, and spins to his right on the balls of his feet so effortlessly that it seems as if he's floating. Weaker men have studied years to affect this sort of thing. You couldn't steal it if you tried.

The Red 100s have a natural fury that's more than the sum of their parts. When Raul's bandmate Robbie switches from guitar to bass, they lose some of their power. Partly it's because a more conventional power trio lineup makes their roots (Cream, Hendrix, Led Zep, Blue Cheer) more obvious. Mainly it's because their best songs -- the pummeling "Bellhop Swing" and "Set Me Free" -- are blues stripped of all excesses save monstrous, precisely delivered riffs and punishing force. When they're playing as a two-guitar and drums trio, there's a no-notes-wasted intensity that's lost in the more traditional soloing-over-rhythm section feel of their bass-guitar-drums tunes.

The reason they sound so original and compelling in their two-guitar alignment is also what makes them modern, what makes their interpretation of the blues an exciting and fresh one. Both guitar players are right on the beat, cranking out simple syncopated changes with clockwork efficiency. Contained, equally precise drumming completes the effect. When they build up into a full-barreled neo-Sabbath thrash then pull back into riffing, it's like walking out of a 100% humidity day in Houston into a well-insulated house with central air. Audiences will be drenched with sweat and grateful of it.

Not every one of the young band's songs is a winner. After they played their two triumphs right up front, the rest of the setlist was a bit of a disappointment (save a rhythmically faithful but intensified "Wipeout," a cover choice that really suited their style and approach). The vocals, by drummer Kyle S., fit in just right when they're needed but they could use them even more sparingly than they already do. As they continue to develop their material, the emphasis has to stay on what they do best -- rapid and frequent feel changes, short and controlled solos from both guitarists, minimal arrangements centered on those massive riffs -- and avoid extended jamming without rhythm changes.

Some people try their whole lives to put their own signature on the blues. With that riff from "Set Me Free," the Red 100s have staked their claim. Only other advice I can offer is that they should probably stop smoking their namesakes. Cigarettes are bad for you.

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