Bully are a band I've been meaning to revisit in my reviews
for a while. The last time I mentioned
them, they hadn't played out in a while and were quite good,
although a little rough around the edges. Since that show, I've
seen them numerous times. However, I've never come back to write
about them. Until now.
In previous reviews, I've mentioned The Star Bar's tradition
of having one band play/host every Wednesday night concert during
a month. For May, this band was Bully. And as much as I wanted
to see them on this evening, I was even more curious about Clemente,
a local band who I've heard good things about. So with the promise
of two good bands in front of me, I headed off to The Star Bar
to see what the evening would bring.
Once I got to The Star Bar, this guy in the monkey suit (no
I'm not kidding) introduced Clemente as a "swamp pop" band.
Now, I'm not certain what swamp pop should sound like, but I'm
pretty sure that Clemente are not it. That's not to say that
the band wasn't good, but rather that they reminded me more
of 5-8 fronted by Will Oldham w/ just a touch of Cafeteria or
some other country band. However, I'll confess that other people
around me immediately compared them to Wilco. Either way, Clemente's
lineup that night of guitar, bass, drums, and slide guitar performed
nicely, although it was apparent from some of their starts and
stops as well as their tuning time that this is a band that
isn't used to playing out much (and they weren't helped out
by a bass that seemed to be turned up a little too loud). They're
still rough around the edges, but certainly promising. And from
the breadth of their sound it seems like they aren't a band
to be pigeonholed as merely "country" or anything like that.
In fact, perhaps their best song of the night came towards the
end of their set, when they broke into a straight indie pop
song that was quite reminiscent of Butterglory in their heyday.
After Clemente's enjoyable set, I was looking forward to seeing
Bully again. On the surface, they are perhaps not a band you'd
expect me to like. I tend to listen to more garage-y, reverbed
music whereas Bully is clearly a rock band. Still, I've always
been pleased by the combination of very solid musicianship and
wonderful song writing. And on this night, despite a rather
quick, short set, they did not disappoint.
Clearly, this was a band that had made good use of the opportunity
to play out throughout the last year. Bully has become a cohesive
unit that seems to run on sheer instinct, with each of the guitarists
playing off each other without a cue. Furthermore, this ability
to play well on both the old and new songs without appearing
to try showed off the ability of the musicians in a way I had
not noticed before. Of course, at the heart of Bully's performance
are the songwriting skills of Joel Burkhart. He has an ability
to craft memorable rock songs filled with self-deprecating lyrics
that are half funny and half heart-breaking. And it's all delivered
in his low-pitched gruff voice that still retains its emotive
power, even if he's not a classically trained singer.
However, the clear highlight of their set came towards the
end of the evening. Without introduction, they almost hesitantly
began a song that seemed familiar to me. They stopped for a
moment and they began again, this time with more strength and
confidence. And I began to laugh, because I now recognized that
Bully was covering The Drive By Truckers' Let There Be Rock.
Although it wasn't a note for note cover, it was well done and
was delivered with the same intensity I'd expect from The Truckers
themselves. And I guess in the end that's the best I can say
about Bully: much like The Drive By Truckers, if they can keep
it all together, they have the makings of a great rock band.