It's fair to argue that if the Night Marchers' front man Jonathan Reis hadn't been in such seminal '80s/'90s bands as Drive Like Jehu and Rocket From the Crypt, he couldn't draw the same crowd as the one that showed at Alex's Bar on Saturday night. As with Hot Snakes (another Reis project), the Night Marchers have a small but devoted cadre of followers despite a cliché-heavy brand of minimalist rock that's high in energy but lacking in melody.
Admittedly, there's something about the 40-something Reis, who on Saturday sang (without ironic embelishment) such well-trodden sentiments as "all night long" and "thar she blows," while bouncing around the stage and thrusting his guitar toward the faces of enthusiastic audience members who jostled for a position at his feet and sang along to every song. Put simply, the guy exudes a charming punk swagger that people seem to revel in. During one break, he had the audience howling with indignant laughter when he remarked on the recent remodeling work at Alex's Bar, which he attributed to "Twilight money." (Alex's served as a location for three seasons of True Blood.)
Unlike Hot Snakes, whose lo-fi aesthetic skews toward a sinister punk vibe, the Night Marchers infuse their riffage with rockabilly flavor. On tunes such as "Thar She Blows," Reis rattled off a wicked, bluesy intro, quickly sliding his fingers up and down the neck of his ax before drummer Jason Kourkounis broke in with a rapid-fire shuffle and smacked his gear at odd angles with uncanny precision.
But occasional musical wizardry aside, the songs relied on uninspired three- and four-chord progressions, buoyed somewhat by Reis' scratchy growl. On songs such as "Pain," which saw the band slowing to a near-ballad tempo, things just sounded sluggish.
As the set drew to a close, the song "Wanna Dead Beat You" invigorated the room and saw a few people hanging by the bar, drawn closer to the stage and joining in the fist thrusting. But the droning, repetition of the phrase "I wanna deadbeat you" did little to thrill this Feral blogger.
Though Rocket From the Crypt relied on similar minimalist chord progressions, their music benefitted from more adventurous arrangements through the use of sax, trumpet and catchier harmonies. Listening to RFTC songs such as 1995's "On a Rope," it's clear Reis was shredding his voice from the start, but back then, he could wail with far more intensity than he exhibited at Alex's Saturday. RFTC, who broke up in 2005, have announced a reunion of sorts and will be playing a handful of European dates this spring. Stay tuned to see if Reis and company can rekindle some of that old magic -- and bring it stateside.
The Crowd: Typical Alex's bar. Young folks drinking tall cans of beer. Hot chicks in leather with high-rise stilettos. Indie chicks emulating Zooey Deschanel. Punk-rock dudes.
Random Notebook Dump: Alex's Bar has done away with the knickknacks around the bar area and installed a large flat-screen. They're also mixing up craft drinks. Despite the changes, the place has maintained its spooky Day of the Dead vibe and is still a great place to catch a show.
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