The Moonlight Wranglers/Buck Sawtooth
Linda's Doll Hut
Sunday, Nov. 7
Howdylicious! is an alt.-country radio show that airs on KUCI every Sunday night from 8 to 10 p.m. Even though we've never actually heard the program (like everything else on KUCI, we can't pick the damn thing up on account of our Long Beach ZIP code), we figured we had to be at Linda's for this promising double bill.
For not only was this a benefit for the cramped, claustrophobic but sufficiently boho station (we've visited before, and we're convinced it's where old vinyl LPs go to die—their collection is massive), but what mostly led us here was the press release touting the gig—specifically the blurb that one of Buck Sawtooth's biggest influences are the Gourds, that fabulously gifted Austin roots band we've been in lust with for several years. For a while, it seemed like we were their only hardcore Cali fans, so we nearly moistened ourselves when we found out that others are blessed with Gourds knowledge.
And Buck Sawtooth were really sweet, too, a drums-bass-guitar-fiddle four-piece of gen-yew-wine insurgent country. What's more, it turned out their drummer is Billy Blaze, who also does time in the swell Long Beach band Johnny Jones & the Suffering Halos (the Halos logo on the kick drum kinda gave him away). Still, we found them only Gourds-like in parts—mandolins and accordions would have been nice touches, and their singer's forced, hyper-redneck drawl was a tad grating.
But the Gourds are known for their truly twisted cover choices—they cut a version of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" last year—and apparently, so are Buck Sawtooth. Not long into their set, they shot off the evening's first weird interpretation, a thundering take on Motrhead's "Iron Fist" that had just the right dosage of honky-tonk running through its veins (keep in mind that their fiddle guy was savagely bowing his instrument all the while). After they settled down, they did a tune called "Punk Rock Pedigree" that was gentle and mellow yet totally schmaltzless, a love song made all the more affecting by Fiddle Guy's lilting, earthy strokes.
'Round about this time, Buck Sawtooth curiously became a blues band and started doing teary-eyed tunes about how Mama shouldn't worry 'cuz the world is almost done. A bit apocalyptical, yeah, but then their guitarist/singer stepped up and started wailing away on a capo, slithering it up and down his neck, dramatically ending a couple of songs in a slow, sad, painful-but-beautiful crawl. A thing of loveliness is what it was. They regained their cheeky streak on their final tune, easily the white-trashiest take ever of Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills," where their singer's over-the-top whine ("Run to the HEE-yuls!") was in full effect.
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Ultimately, we decided the Moonlight Wranglers sounded a little more like the Gourds than Buck Sawtooth—that's no dis; we're just saying. Possibly because the Monrovia-based Wranglers (we'll call them "kings of the Monrovia scene") were simply more eclectic. They brought along a sax bleater and an electric-piano tinkler, and though they could hardly be pigeonholed as an alt.-country band, they were still way cool in a loungey sorta way, reminding us of Havalina Rail Co. and the Asylum Street Spankers. One song, "Armadillo," was a freaky amalgam of babalu hand drums, tambourines, bubbly upright bass and vague-but-still-recognizable surf licks.
Their songs were about decidedly downer stuff, though. Aside from "Armadillo" (which got caught in the headlights and, we assume, wound up as some mighty tasty roadkill), they sang about sitting in rooms filled with despair, as well as sin, jealousy, avarice and dead bodies lying at the bottom of Irwindale gravel quarries. A tune about Cary Grant had some mind-blowingly gorgeous vocalizing, which would have been a fine enough moment to end on, but they generously offered up more splendiferousness (if that's not a word, it is now) with a trio of closing covers: an impressive country-honk version of Dramarama's "Anything Anything"; a slow, mesmerizingly haunting "Ring of Fire" take; and a wondrously sleepy reading of "Blue Moon," which fully unveiled their singer's superfine set of pipes.
We thought the Wranglers were a very special band indeed—even the bartender was overheard giving them much praise. As for ourselves—and especially after last week's tribute-band debacle—we were just happy to hear some good covers for a change.
Send tapes, CDs and tips on where we should go (besides hell) to Locals Only,OC Weekly, P.O. Box 10788, Costa Mesa, CA 92627-0247.v