Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, the American blues band interviewed on Midnight Sun last December, performed at the 9:30 Club Saturday night. Contributor Ben Opipari reviews the show.
One thing you need to remember before seeing a show by The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band: take care of your basic needs (beer, bathroom) before the band hits the stage. Once they start playing, you won't be going anywhere.
It's impossible to take your eyes off them.
The band, which performed at the 9:30 Club Saturday, consists of the Rev (on his pre-1935 guitars), his wife Washboard Breezy (on the washboard) and Aaron “Cuz” Persinger (on drums—and five gallon bucket).
A Big Damn Band live show is full of life. In an age when many performers rarely venture a few paces past their microphone if they’re even able to stop shoe-gazing, the Big Damn Band is furious power.
On Saturday, when they opened for The Reverend Horton Heat on the “Two Revs” tour, the band was all pent-up energy, and for good reason: they had been in an accident only a few hours before, outside of Elkton, seriously damaging the van. And that van had replaced the old van only four days earlier. The Rev, a charismatic frontman, was not there, he told the crowd, to play any “hipster (expletive).”
The band's sound is a blend of Delta blues and country blues, but really it’s just timeless rock n' roll played by a trio from rural Indiana. They’re touring—well, truth by told, they are always touring, averaging 250 shows a year—in support of last year’s release "The Wages," which peaked at #2 on the Billboard blues chart.
The Rev is a keen student of blues history; he’s in DC today at the Sirius/XM studios, taping a show of blues favorites on Bluesville. And this summer the band is releasing "Peyton on Patton," an album of Charlie Patton songs that was recorded on one microphone in one day.
From the opening number, when The Rev kicked over a couple of Persinger’s cymbals, the band never stopped. They are as much visual spectacle as aural feast. Besides The Rev’s guitar playing, Breezy’s hands, gloved for protection, furiously stroked the washboard.
And Persinger was equal parts athlete and drummer. After the show, I found him backstage icing his forearms. There’s a primal element to their music that reaches the base of human emotion: this is music that you clap to, stop your feet to, and sing along to. Every song demands it (in fact, The Rev often demands these things from the audience).
In his songwriting process, melody reigns supreme. He works hard to achieve a melody in which the audience can participate. Songs like “Your Cousin’s on Cops,” “Born Bred, Corn Fed,” “Fort Wayne Zoo,” and “Mama’s Fried Potatoes” are stories in the authentic blues tradition, delivered with a punk aesthetic. And they are true stories: Breezy’s cousin was on the show “Cops,” and The Rev’s cousin did steal a chicken from the Fort Wayne Zoo.
First time concertgoers might notice that the band has no bass. As The Rev reminded the audience, thrusting his thumb in the air, “This is my bass.” He plays bass and guitar together: his thumb plays the bass notes while he finger picks the strings simultaneously (please—no guitar picks here). All this while his fret hand slides maniacally up and down the neck of the guitar, creating a sound that I’ve not heard anywhere else. Demonstrating his prowess, he played “Yankee Doodle” (bass) and “Dixie” (guitar) at the same time.
It was a testament to the band’s hold on the audience that I couldn’t see any backlit smartphone displays around me, the telltale sign of the texting concertgoer. These people were listening. And watching.
Sure, this was the “Two Revs” tour, but judging from the audience reception, it was pretty clear upon whose altar the audience laid their dancing feet.
Ben Opipari is a regular contributor to Midnight Sun. He interviews writers and songwriters on his blog, Songwriters on Process. He interviewed Reverend Peyton for this blog in December. Erik Maza edited this post.