Concert Review: Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers

Concert Review: Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers May 17, 2009

I’m back at the hotel after seeing Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers at The Ark in Ann Arbor. As always, they put on a show that left the 400 people in the audience shouting for more even after nearly 2 hours of music from the headliners and another 45 minutes from the opening act (Dead Rock West, which had a very cool sound).

RCPM hit the stage like a tornado, blistering through three straight songs – Wanted, Americano and Hello New Day – without a break. Roger announced that the club had given them a curfew of 11 pm that they had to finish by, which they fully intended to violate. And they did.

This is their first tour with a new lead guitarist, Jim Dalton, who replaced Steve Larson. Dalton was a little stiff at first, but he warmed up as the set wore on. Not coincidentally, his warming up seemed to follow on the heels of the first shot of tequila that Roger handed to him. He also remarked that Dalton likes whiskey, a habit they’re working to break him of. It’s tequila all the way for this band.

The Ark, by the way, is a private club that only sells beer and wine for alcohol. And I doubt the club had any idea what they were in for by bringing in RCPM. About 20 minutes into the set when Roger asked who had brought the tequila, about a dozen people started passing flasks and pints toward the stage. Which all set the stage for their famous hymn to the Mexican liquor gods, Jack v Jose.

That song is the story of a man – Roger, of course – who goes into a bar in Memphis and orders a shot of tequila, only to be reminded that they only drink whiskey in Dixie because “that’s what they’re pouring up in heaven.” He kindly replied that “where I come from, born and raised in Arizona, don’t you know, me and my friends would be more likely drinking what they serve down in hell.”

This song is always a highlight of their live shows, and was made all the more amusing as Roger put the new whiskey-drinking guitarist through the paces of proper Southwestern drinking with the help of a pint of Jose Cuervo brought to the stage by a fan.

Another highlight of the show, as always, was Mexico. Roger Clyne has a lifelong love affair going on with the Sonoran desert and the band hosts a weekend festival for their fans at Rocky Point, Mexico twice a year. The show opens with the song Mexico, a tribute, appropriately, to songs about Mexico. But the show really exploded with an ear-blasting version of Mekong toward the end, after which they came back for several songs as an encore.

This band has an energy and a vibe to them that is truly infectious. I laughed when I saw that they had reserved seating in chairs in front of the stage and remarked to another veteran of many RCPM shows that the club clearly didn’t know much about this band or they would know that those chairs were pointless. There is no sitting down at a Roger Clyne show. The music compels you to stand up and move.

And I really should say something about PH Naffah, the brilliant drummer for RCPM. He is simply the best minimalist drummer out there. With nothing more than a snare, bass, floor tom, ride cymbal and high hat — not even a single tom tom — he manages to pack more nuance amid his power strokes than one could ever imagine. He is the driving force behind the band.

It’s really a shame that this band doesn’t have the following it really deserves. Clyne is one of America’s great songwriter troubadours – Bruce Springsteen meets Robert Earl Keen, with a side of salt and lime.

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