Since rock and roll’s inception, the bar band has been a staple of American culture. For better or worse, the aspiring guitar slingers, weekend warriors and pool hall crooners have cut their teeth in circuits where hard-working patrons come for the beer and stay for the music. It’s on those tucked away stages that many musicians find their voice and develop their craft. The Paul Thorn Band drips with the bar-band accessibility and good-ole-boy charm of a group well-versed in the grind of four-hour sets and drunken-crowd requests.
More so than his singing or songwriting, Thorn’s most striking quality is his absolute confidence. Not to be confused with arrogance, his sure footed navigation of stage presence, performance and between-song banter was center stage on Friday, Aug. 31,at Cargo in the Whitney Peak Hotel.
“I hurt my back a little bit ago,” Thorn explained from his stool at the front of the stage, “so I’ve got to sit down to perform, but I’ll still try to show off some of my dance moves.” He laughed and waved his arm over his head to immediate laughter from the crowd. Thorn’s magnetic personality is as much a part of the show as the music.
Crowd favorites like “Burn Down the Trailer Park” and “It’s A Great Day To Whup Somebody’s Ass” feature the relatable tongue-in-cheek lyrics of a new friend at the local watering hole or the life-of-the-party uncle. And the lyrics are only emphasized by the rollickingly steadfast musicianship of the band behind him.
With a rhythm section of bassist Ralph Friedrichsen and drummer Jeffrey Perkins, the foundation of the band is both solid and nuanced. As the band opened with “Mission Temple Fireworks Stand,” Perkins and Friedrichsen linked up to supply something that felt like ascetic gospel. From the first note, their ability to dig in built the backbone for the rest of the group.
Keyboardist Michael Graham’s almost chameleonic playing was the group’s key to a multi-dimensional tonal palette. From swampy organ on “What The Hell Is Goin’ On?” to funky clav on “Too Blessed to Be Stressed,” Graham’s penchant for blending and playing with the consistent tone of guitarist Bill Hinds gave the group a sense of wiggle room within the blue-collar-Americana genre they thrive in.
While his tone was unvarying, Hinds’ playing was anything but. His prowess as a guitarist was most on display when playing slide. It was then that his touch, taste, and tone were most clearly highlighted and his ability to weave between vocals is the mark of not just a seasoned guitarist but an adept musician.
The Paul Thorn Band is as American as it gets. With songs and stories born straight from the cotton fields of Mississippi, Thorn is able to paint a picture of the American experience that is gritty yet picturesque, commonplace yet immediately romantic. While Cargo is far from being a dive bar, the Paul Thorn Band’s youthful exuberance and magnetic personality transformed the venue into a bonafide juke-joint like only an American bar band can.
Related story — Thorn: “It’s ain’t nothing for me to knock out a reporter.” LINK