Straight shooters: Sun Valley Gun Club hits the mark

Tahoe Onstage

At the end of a tour, Sun Valley Gun Club revels in its camaraderie.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Tony Contini

When a band is described as having a country vibe, that usually means it possess a certain twang. The lyrics are about belt buckles or trucks and someone plays the lap steel guitar. With Sun Valley Gun Club, the country vibe stems from a songwriting approach.

Sun Valley Gun Club’s set at St. James Infirmary in Reno on Sunday was intimate and the songs were direct. Their influences are ‘90s indie/radio-rock and the man himself, Garth Brooks.

A most pertinent note: SVGC is not from Sun Valley, Nevada. The quartet hails from Sacramento.

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

Bassist Ashley Maiden said they’ve been called the “country pavement.” Remember Stephen Malkmus’ band from Stockton? It has a similar approach. Failure Machine’s drummer Clint Philbin thinks they sound like Weezer during the good Pinkerton years.

The members of SVGC used to be in a hard core band, but they shifted gears to match their roots in pop-country of nearly three decades passed. Vocalist/guitarist Evan Bailey has a bold voice and his lyrical prose is the focal point of the band. It ranges from an anthemic melody to a gravely roar. He’s accompanied by building rhythmic soundscapes — but never too much. Less riffs, more feelings.

Their stop in Reno was the final date of a lengthy tour. The set reaped the benefit of extensive practice. Touring also was a bonding experience as the crowd watched them share one glass of beer.

“This is the best Sunday show we’ve ever had in our lives,” Bailey said. He went on to cutely quote The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love.”

The set would shift suddenly from a singer/songwriter showcase to deep and heavily spaced-out breakdowns with screams through a megaphone. Some bands can make feedback sound good. You could even slow dance to a couple of the songs.

The funniest part of the set was when four bros walked out the door after the first song.

“OK, see ya, guys,” Bailey said. I lost it.

Tony Contini / Tahoe OnstageBut the boys in Common Mishap who helped open the show stuck around – a true sign of dedicated musicians. Common Mishap is comprised of Reno locals and their families were in attendance.

They played melodic hard-rock. Like Norma Jean if they were softer or a young Balance and Composure. They performed great change-ups of tempo throughout breakdowns.

Their songs ranged from lonely and contemplative to brash and edgy. Something about the spacey lead guitar melodies reminded me of Brand New – so, well played.

The members seem to be a new band who played a tight set while finding themselves and their presence.

Rachael McElhiney softly began the show.

“I’m starting it off a little mellow,” McElhiney said. “But don’t let that discourage your ability to rage.”

She wrote her set list of adorable stories and a cappella jams in pink and couldn’t read it well under St. James’ red light. She has the most contagious laughter that invites you to smile right along with her.

The baritone ukulele she wields was bought at a garage sale by her dad. She’s never changed the strings, but it sounds perfect. Her cover of “La Vie en rose” by Édith Piaf will melt your heart.

McElhiney always finds a way to end her beautiful songs with laughter.

-Tony Contini

Tahoe Onstage

Rachael McElhiney plays a baritone ukulele in St. James Infirmary.
Tony Contini /Tahoe Onstage

Sun Valley Gun Club

Tony Contini / Tahoe OnstageTony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

Common Mishap

Tony Contini / Tahoe Onstage

About Tony Contini

Photographer and journalist Tony Contini graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in art photography. He loves working with bands and telling stories. Photography portfolio:

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