South Carolina’s Dangermuffin rolled into town May 19 for its Reno debut and delivered a low-country roots rock party jams with the friendly hospitality associated with its home region.
As our own weather blossomed into pleasantness, is was easy to imagine The Saint transformed for an evening into a Carolina beach party scene, complete with lights strung from large oaks to illuminate the swaying moss and smiling faces soaking up the rhythms of a gentle, salty ocean breeze.
One reason for the feel of the room was the relaxed and confident way that Dan Lotti (rhythm guitar/vocals) delivers the band’s message. Lotti expertly paints a vocal picture of scenes and situations, with a rising and falling vocal style that invites you to the place where the band wrote each of the songs, and draws you into each tune’s little bubble. The experience is enhanced by a wealth of versatility from lead guitarist Mike Sivilli. He supplies beautiful vocal harmonies, throws down styles from beach reggae and finger-picking country on an amplified acoustic to haunting slide, edgy rock, and Grand Ole Opry twang via his Telecaster. It was clear that Lotti and Sivilli had been playing with each other for some time, as their timing and tonal sensibilities paired with ease.
Markus Helander, a recent addition as of their latest record, skillfully handled all of the different rhythms from behind the kit, along with former drummer and now conga-playing stand-up bassist Steven Sandifer. From start to finish, the pair showed a lot of stage communication and smiles between one another while maintaining tight precise lines for the guitars and vocals to rest upon. A native of Finland and fusion drummer by trade, Helander comes across as engaging with the crowd and band as I’ve seen, even flashing smiles at me in my attempts to photograph him. While the music stands on its own, that attitude flows through the entire band to the audience, serving as the secret sauce that makes them so enjoyable to share a venue with, as opposed to the brooding self-indulgence so often seen
The boys based in Charleston also dipped into the catalog of some other artists, combining restraint and originality in their treatments. In particular were a beautifully played and sung version of Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita,” The Grateful Dead’s “Roll Away” and “Friend of the Devil,” the latter of which seemed to really tickle Lotti as he sang and smiled through most of the iconic tune about driving into Reno. Manfred Mann’s “Mighty Quinn” received more restraint than the original, which was nice presentation choice for a band resisting the urge to over-play the vibe. The most interesting cover was their interpretation of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe,” played pretty straight up in the intro and then morphing into an island reggae version that was not only pleasing, but a nice blending of their own sound without changing the tone of what the song expresses.
However, by no means should my breakdown of their covers indicate that it was the highlight of the show. The truth is they served only as a nice little treat tucked into a yummy evening of low-country crawfish boil, playing the part of the sweet corn, but their own music was undeniably the star as succulent crustacean in the aural repast.
Dangermuffin supported its most recent album, “Heritage.” (a heartfelt record about one’s foundations that is worth a critical listen) with several songs, including the title track “Ode To My Heritage,” combining roots and island grooves while delivering a message about being true to “wherever I’m from,” and the radio friendly “Ancient Family.”
“Cicada” from “Songs For The Universe” bounced along in its cha-cha pace, causing even the most rhythm challenged attendees to at least move a little. “Cradle of the Beach” and “The Rising Souls” from 2012’s “Olly Oxen Free” showed not only Lotti’s love of pure old-timey American folk with its uncluttered delivery in the latter, but also serves as a stark juxtaposition in styles being played right after the island-calypso jam “Cradle of the Beach” from the same album.
While they transformed the atmosphere in a midtown venue, I can’t help but think what fun this band might be playing on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe on a summer evening on a real beach, and completing the fantasy sampled in their first Reno appearance. Dangermuffin also appeared at the Brewery Arts Center in Carson City on May 27.