Gig review: Rose City Band, Bobby Lee at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

The psychedelic country rock band live up to their a reputation as one of the most potent live acts in circulation.
Rose City Band. Picture: Todd WalbergRose City Band. Picture: Todd Walberg
Rose City Band. Picture: Todd Walberg

Portland, Oregon-based guitarist and songwriter Ripley Johnson initially envisioned Rose City Band as a singer-songwriter project, a studio-bound respite from years on the road with Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo.

That Rose City Band are plying their cosmic brand of psychedelicized country rock on the Brudenell stage (“our favourite place to play,” Johnson declares, in tones that suggest he doesn’t say this in every venue on the itinerary) in the middle of an extensive European tour, which follows an even more epic trek through North America, offers an uncommonly positive example of best laid plans going totally wrong.

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Whether by accident or through design, Rose City Band have built a reputation as one of the most potent live acts in circulation, the kind of a celebrated cult name who are guaranteed to draw a crowd wherever they go.

Tonight’s rapturously received performance certainly proves the band’s live prowess. Rose City Band’s immaculately relaxed albums (most recently this year’s beatifically horizontal Garden Party) remain largely solo undertakings, with Johnson handling most of the instruments.

The live five-piece essentially strap the laidback source material to a rocket, light the fuse, and send the tunes on a thrill-packed cruise through the cosmos, propelled by an oft-maligned accelerant: jamming.

The hypnotic outcomes excel in near-telepathic interplay and explosive dynamics. Often, the tunes switch from easygoing two-chord vamps to gradually intensifying instrumental build-ups that find the band virtually levitating so nimbly that the transition is barely noticeable.

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Songs are welded into medleys that somehow drift seamlessly from heavy-lidded reveries to greasy boogie via deconstructed noodle-doodle that occasionally finds superlative keyboardist Paul Hasenberg almost climbing over the top of his kit in search of the right note.

At the centre of the ensuing glorious noise, Johnson is a somewhat impassive focal point, either immersed in his Jerry Garcia-meets-J.J. Cale fretboard acrobatics or smiling quickly at a particularly sweet contribution from one his fellow musicians: perhaps he’s also slightly mesmerized by the monster of a band he’s launched into the world.

Judging by the enthusiastic reception tonight, Bobby Lee’s trio – who open the proceedings – are working their way towards similar cult hero status.

After various musical endeavors, Lee hit on a potent formula by blending the tastiest sections of his record collection – forward-thinking guitar artistry, various heady offshoots of psychedelia, the motoric momentum of Neu! et al, ambient introspection, crunchy riff worship – into a unique instrumental power trio who favour hypnotic moods and textures over the perishable thrills of slick hooks and choruses.

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Imagine if desert blues took a wrong turn and wound up in an enchanted forest in the vicinity of Lee’s native Sheffield, or a heat-hazed soundtrack to a classic American road film that was accidentally staged on British B-roads, and you’re not far from Lee’s increasingly assured formula, best exemplified on this year’s LP Endless Skyways.

Regular gigging has added crunchy assertiveness and sweaty funkiness to the trio’s arsenal: respectfully curious at first, the audience get gradually more and more enticed by the compelling support set.

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