Buster Blue rocks without being a rock band. They meld genres so fluidly that it seems silly trying to define the music, but if you have not heard them (and you can by going to their MySpace page right now), know that they play intense and moving folk with many instruments and great rapport.
They get along because the members of Buster Blue grew up together, even if they didn't all know it at the time.
"Brendon (Lund) and I graduated at the same time but never knew each other," Jason Ricketts said about his bandmate.
Though their ages range from 19 to 26, the seven musicians all went to Douglas High School in Minden and met through music programs in the Gardnerville area.
And growing up together has made them into a family of sorts. Band practice is like hanging with six brothers and the sister they all look out for.
Before things get rolling, talk meanders from Lund's recent viewing of "Superbad" ("You are so f---ing Michael Cera," he said with good reason to Bryan Jones, the group's lead singer) to what bands they're trying to arrange shows with, such as My Flag is on Fire.
Their next show's flier has an image of Abraham Lincoln on it because, Jones said, he just likes him.
"When I went to Lincoln Lounge, I thought 'holy crap, I've found my place,'" he said. "He's just creepy, really tall with long arms and legs."
But Ricketts countered, "He's very phallically shaped, and that's what Bryan likes about him."
"Oh, right, that," Jones admits in jest.
Asked what it was like to be in a band full of guys and their fellatio jokes, Rachael McElhiney just laughed and said "I'm used to it. I've known these guys forever."
But the guys claim the phrase she uses most around them is "What does that mean?!"
Pulling double and triple duty
Smack talk is near constant but always dished out with affection, and they work organically, easily communicating about this part of that song and how to change an intro or improve a melody. After running through their first song, everyone chimes in to say they need to tune, and having done that they start again.
They also know how to share, with members passing instruments around after almost every song. It's tempting to tie each person to an instrument. But Andy Martin, who I first saw strumming an acoustic guitar decorated with Smashing Pumpkins stickers, also does trombone duty and sings. Jay Escamillo and Ryan Miyashiro trade off on drums depending on the song.
With guitar, bass, banjo, keyboard, drums (sometimes two sets), tambourine, keyboard, saxophone and trombone in the mix, there's a lot to go around. The sheer number of instruments makes the sound rich and gives it real weight as they take songs so old they've fallen into the public domain and rewrite what people expect from folk.
Finding a place for folk
On stage, they play with staccato intensity, producing jolting rhythms that make your whole body tap instead of just a foot. Sweetly smooth vocals from Jones and Martin alternate with harsh yells, especially the ones conjured by Ricketts on songs like "Ain't No Heaven on the County Road" and "Rise Up." Still other songs, such as "Isabelle" and "Science Sleep Dreams," float along gently while retaining a raw earnestness backed by wealth of instruments.
It's the accordion, banjo and tambourine on some songs that make "folk" jump to mind, and many songs are old ballads, drinking songs or chain-gang ditties. But the band has refashioned them with a driving pulse or an upbeat feel that often is quite danceable, and their own creations share that same drive.
The music doesn't fit easily into the boxes of three-piece rock, subdued indie-folk or big band, but it also doesn't depend on novelty. Some songs feel like drunken ballads, except that they're on key and you don't have to be wasted to enjoy them.
Together for more than two years, the band is readying their first CD release, called "This Beard Grows for Freedom" and featuring cover art by Omar Pierce. Mixing has not been finalized, but Lund said he hopes that it would be ready by late November.
Lund's part in the band is a sign of their longevity. He used to play with Humble B, but soon after they had dispersed, Buster Blue lost its bassist to a severe case of apathy. But the missing lineup link was almost immediately filled by Lund, demonstrating that Buster Blue is not about any one person, a fact echoed by their concert history.
All together now
Because the seven have jobs or school to attend, it's not unusual for someone to skip a show. At one time or another, every member of the band has been missing in action, including lead singer Jones, but the shows always go on, helped by the number of players and that each can play multiple parts on stage.
But especially when all are present, as they will be Friday at Zephyr, Buster Blue puts on quite a production, and it's a show that's not to be missed.
Buster Blue performing their take on the classic folk song "St. James Infirmary Blues"