I can’t begin to describe these guys or their music. Picture a band with that name and I’d bet that picture is wrong.
The band describes its music as “Western Americana,” but that’s not even close. Mix Elvis, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Bob Dylan and Devo or the Sex Pistols with a dash of Stray Cats and you might get close. These guys are beyond genre.
Old Death Whisper played their May 2 show at the newly restored Liberty Theatre. To keep from forming a biased opinion, I seldom read about a band beforehand; I didn’t know what to expect.
I walked into a half-filled, small theatre and my eyes immediately lit up; on the stage were an upright bass and a generous selection of Gretsch guitars and Fender amplifiers. No way could this be bad.
It wasn’t bad; it was great. Chuy Hartman, aka “Spike,” opened the show with a few hard-driving, eclectic banjo tunes that defy description. Spike himself is giant bear of a man with a beard that looks like No. 4 grade steel wool. He is also an excellent musician and singer.
The rest of the band joined him on stage and they look unusual–in a good way– to say the least.
J.R. Hood shared most of the vocal duties with Spike. J.R. looks like he rolled off a flat car about a mile from the railroad exchange here in La Grande.
I’m just kidding—kind of. J.R. was a good guitar player and great vocalist and songwriter. Four of the band’s five members are songwriters—great songwriters at that.
Drew Tomseth pounded the skins with vigor and wears the same hat Dylan wore on his debut album. Between the hat and his unusually contoured moustache he looked like a deserter from a Greek fishing trawler.
Cole Wells played excellent steel guitar and lead electric guitar and wouldn’t look out of place in an MIT laboratory.
Kent Mueller played great upright bass and sang some good vocals as well. He’s the most “normal” looking one of the bunch.
These guys played a high energy two-hour show of mostly originals. Dig these song titles: “Dead Outlaw,” IronCuffs” and “Wish I was your Bottle” (use your imagination).
This was one of the most exciting and original music shows I’ve seen in La Grande. Unfortunately, attendance was poor; only half of the 60 or so seats were occupied.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people whining and moaning there’s nothing to do in La Grande. I saw plenty of posters for the concert, but maybe the same people whining there’s nothing to do are also illiterate—that wouldn’t surprise me.
Really, next time you’re looking for something to do, look at the bulletin boards here or in town. Look at La Grande Life on the web. Or maybe it’s just easier to complain.