Growing up, music was good if it could elicit emotions, whether that meant the Christian pop music my parents favored, Top 40 hits from TLC and Blues Traveler or country stars like Garth Brooks.
Around fifth grade, that perspective altered as I learned to play guitar. Soon, technique trumped all. Playing as fast as Kirk Hammett or mimicking Dimebag Darrell’s pinch harmonics became priority one. When I enjoyed music without instrumental wizardry, I invented loopholes to explain why such-and-such band was acceptable under my silly little rubric.
After snoozing through some B.B. King Blues Fests and falling out of love with Joe Satriani, I realized my appreciation for killer solos and monster riffs stemmed from that desire to be moved. Technical skill without songwriting was like an expertly tailored dress without a beautiful woman to fill it out.
My taste turned sharply in the other direction. Indie rock ruled. Technique gave way to texture. Lengthy solos were only acceptable in the context of Built to Spill.
I’ve been trying to shake such presuppositions throughout my writing career, but you always carry your history with you. So I was antsy when I entered Ruby Tuesday last Thursday to see Theo’s Loose Hinges and Max Power. Both bands skew toward the jammy side of music that immediately, unfairly puts me on guard.
No need. Both bands killed it.
It’s awesome to see masterful players deploy their skills in a way that lifts songs into the stratosphere. No jam lasted longer than it needed to. Each group grafted numerous genres into the mix without sacrificing their distinctive voices. Most impressive: These guys can sing!
Whether covering Radiohead respectably or accenting light, airy reggae rock with hard-hitting flourishes, Max Power was sharp throughout. They struck an ideal balance between the poles that have been competing in my brain since childhood.
Theo’s Loose Hinges, the solo project of Floorwalkers guitarist Theo Perry, was almost as impressive. Perry’s lyrics often fell flat (“She likes my style/ I love her smile”), and his cover of “Come Together” couldn’t match The Floorwalkers’ furious rendition at ComFest a couple of years back. But when you can conjure Hendrix, Jeff Buckley and The Roots in a single set, you’ve got my approval.