country bands don't dress like that.Two things to know about Dusty Rhodes and the River Band: 1) There is no one named Dusty Rhodes in the band and 2) they are not a country, bluegrass or any other sort of act to which the phrase "River Band" might imply.
Rather, the Fullerton, California-based band is the amalgamation of six music obsessed 20-somethings that have cultivated an indie-rock-meets-Levon Helm-while-everyone-sings-along sound. Dusty Rhodes just released its second record, Palace and Stage, which is gaining positive reviews and helped the band earn headlining shows and festival appearances, but there are plenty of people who still think the band is some sort of country band.
"When we started this band, we thought up this really silly band name and didn't really think it would ever come back to bite us in the butt, but it sure has, man," says guitarist Kyle Divine as he and the band headed toward Chicago last weekend as part of a national tour that brings them to town to headline the Bite of Bend festival this weekend. The name thing has been a problem; more than once unwitting promoters have booked country acts to open for Dusty Rhodes.
If the name wasn't enough of a built-in challenge, Dusty Rhodes also has to deal with the fact that they are almost impossible to package. On one hand, their sound has been marinated in classic rock and folk influences, but conversely, the band is also awesomely poppy, musically complex and actually pretty damn modern. The result is something incredibly accessible, as evidenced by the fact that the last time they played in Bend it was opening for the Irish-punkers of Flogging Molly, but a couple weeks ago they played a well-received set at the jam-intensive Wakarusa Festival.
"We've always just been about playing anywhere, anytime for whatever crowd because we know we can win them over wherever we are," says Divine.
Palace and Stage, released last month on Side One Dummy Records, the label where the band is the odd duck in an almost all punk-oriented lineup, is a solidly produced disc that showcases both the band's rock power, but also includes quirky folk moments and surging pop melodies that benefit from Andrea Babinski's violin and Dustin Apadoca's keys. Switching up lead vocalists and keeping everyone at their respective mic for omnipresent backing vocal melodies, Dusty Rhodes has melted its pop sensibilities with innate rock instincts to make what is easily one of the best indie rock albums of 2009.
"On our very first record that we did, we weren't really paying attention to aesthetics or sounds. On this record, we wanted to steer away from all of those easily classified clichés and make a record that sounded very now and not dated," says Divine.
The band has been consistently talked about in the media as a "throwback act" - almost as if Dusty Rhodes is a novelty of sorts. But in essence, the band is hardly a throwback, given that acts like Dr. Dog and Fleet Foxes carried the old-is-new banner to sparkling reviews and solid record sales last year. In fact, Dusty Rhodes seems like they were put on this Earth to share a bill with Dr. Dog (which they are at a the High Sierra Festival in a couple weeks), or perhaps Oregon's own Decemberists. And when I mention the possibility of the band playing with the latter, Divine is instantly excited as if that would solve all the silly-name problems and mis-classification Dusty Rhodes has been subjected to over the past few years. Who knows, maybe it would.
"We feel like we can play with Flogging Molly and do well and we play with Los Lobos or Jonny Lang and do well with those crowds, but if we could open for the Decemberists or the Arcade Fire that would just seal it," says Divine.
In other words, Divine and company are looking to branch out to some new audiences and with an album like Palace and Stage under its arm, that will almost certainly happen. After all, they've already got the misguided country fan market in the pocket, so it would make sense to diversify.
Dusty Rhodes and the River Band
8:30pm Saturday, June 20. Bite of Bend Main Stage (downtown on Minnesota Ave). Free. All Ages.