COLORBEARER OF ATHENS, GEORGIA LOCALLY OWNED SINCE 1987
September 13, 2012

Robert Earl Keen, Rev. Peyton and His Big Damn Band

Photos by Kaden Shallat

Robert Earl Keen and his band might have been the headliners last night, but for me, the real star of the show was Reverend Peyton and his Big Damn Band. The Big Damn Band is loud, intense, and exciting, and not in the way an aggressive punk or metal band is—that is, with a negative veneer. Rather, the Big Damn Band demanded audience participation. The Reverend Peyton himself several times gave everyone specific instructions (“When I say, ‘Scream out loud,’ I want you to scream as hard as you possibly can!”), which usually involved call-and-responses where the audience was encouraged to give its all. And that’s what made it really fun, because however unique the Big Damn Band’s sound is, and it is unique (it sounds exactly like a train), it is rather same-y to sit and passively listen to it. This is not psychedelic rock—it’s just really good fun.

The Big Damn Band is like a little carnival, really. The Reverend was quick to announce that there are no robots in his band, that all the music is made by human hands, and then he performed a little trick for us: “I’m gonna play ‘Yankee Doodle’ with my thumb, and ‘Dixie’ with my fingers.” And he did. And we cheered. Somehow, it felt like a call back to some sort of Vaudevillian standard of showmanship, which was very nice to see. A band such as the Big Damn Band seems like it has encased itself in a long-lost time and place, but it's not hiding it—instead, it's bringing it forward to the audience with locomotive speed and force.

What can one say of Robert Earl Keen and his band by comparison? Well, firstly, Keen’s songs are deftly constructed and presented in the country format. He’s also one of those storytelling singer-songwriters with an English degree—oh, boy. Keen is a competent traditional folk musician and storyteller, but I was more impressed by his guitarist, Rich Brotherton, whose blazing arpeggios lent excitement to what otherwise would probably have been dull country moments.

View more photos from the show on our Tumblr.

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