“Reno As Fuck.” Subtle.
The phrase, while perhaps over-the-top hipster-ish, also is the moniker of Revision Brewery’s flagship suds. Last Saturday to commemorate its fourth anniversary, Revision brought in a band that plays loud and fuzzy as fuck, Oakland’s Howlin’ Rain.
I’ll admit to having my doubts about how a temporary stage in a Sparks brewery warehouse might work. But with Mad Alchemy’s psychedelic liquid light show and surprisingly good sound, it was a nice setting for a concert — the indoor chain-link fencing notwithstanding.
Beer service and a food truck were set up in the parking lot, and the rear of the building loading docks were open so you could still hear the show if you slipped outside. For those who preferred to take a load off rather than dance or groove, there were also picnic tables inside.
[pullquote]Ethan Miller’s falsetto and occasionally screechy vocals are cleverly crafted and belie his outward appearance of a skinny hippie with a gold-miner beard.[/pullquote]Buster Blue opened the festivities, and while the official band count is six members, there seemed to be several more on stage. The local Reno act dropped soothing harmonies and folky phrasing backed by guitars, horns, keyboards, drums and the occasional random noisemaker in an hourlong set that drew a full house of dancing and imbibing followers.
After a brief changeover and a chance to refill some brews, Howlin’ Rain took the stage. Mad Alchemy’s lighting effects were a supreme fit, turning the four rockers into living, breathing, Lava Lamp canvases. Sporting a pair of guitars, bass and drums, the quartet produces a gritty rawness that evokes 1970s era rock in 2019.
Experiencing their sound for the first time might feel a little jarring, with twangy chords that suddenly burst into a dual wave of euphonic notes flung through the air by guitarists Ethan Miller and Dan Cervantes. The pair relish turning to face each other onstage, locked in a rapid-fire battle of whammy bars and fuzz pedals, seemingly waiting for one of the guitars to self-combust before declaring a winner as Miller returns to the mic.
Ethan Miller’s falsetto and occasionally screechy vocals are cleverly crafted and belie his outward appearance of a skinny hippie with a gold-miner beard.
Howlin’ Rain’s 90-minute set included selections from their standout release, “Alligator Bride.”
The performance featured a moving tribute to Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Hard Working Americans and Circles Around The Sun guitarist Neal Casal. Casal was a talent who left us all too early and for those in the Bay Area music community, where Neal spent a lot of his time, his unexpected passing was devastating.
Bassist Jeff McElroy is a bit of a jokester on his Instagram account, but onstage he and drummer Justin Smith are all business. The pair lays a steady foundation for the chaos on the other side of the stage.
Howlin’ Rain’s sound, you might even say, is jarring as fuck at first. But hang in there, and like Revision Brewery’s best seller: It grows on you.
— Michael Smyth