On Saturday, May 30th, the recently anointed Saginaw Bay Area “Best Original Band,” John Vasquez and the Bearinger Boys took the stage at Hamilton Street Pub, standing before a motley assortment of bikers, college kids, musicians, hockey fans, and misfits, while game one of the NHL Stanly Cup Finals played on a screen behind them. It would be a tough situation for any band—is the crowd listening to and watching us, or are their eyes on the game behind us?
After all, it was the playoffs and we are in a state known for hockey.
Unassuming front man John Vasquez exudes a calm intelligence about him, and the strange situation of the game behind him and the sound of motorcycles rumbling on Hamilton Street had no affect on his demeanor. With the opening of the first song “My Town,” which began with a steady beat from the bass drum accompanied by fast strumming on the amplified acoustic guitar building to a frenzy before the opening lyrics, the crowd was quickly won over.
At the Review Music Awards, Vasquez took the award for Best Rock Vocalist, and his unique voice has a hint of Jeff Buckley’s sweeping vocals. There is something cathartic about listening to the band, to be filled with the music and the rising vocals. The words are jam-packed in the verses, and this lyrical-complexity could be influenced by the Wu-Tang Clan and other hip-hop artists, just as easily as it could be influenced by a more traditional folk hero like Dylan.
That night Sean Chadwick on drums and Ben Alcorn on bass created the rhythm section, though it was Alcorn’s last show with the band. Their consistently solid playing were an essential part of Vasquez’s rhythm-driven songs. Many songs began with a steady bass drum beat, encouraging foot-stomping from the crowd, and the rat-tat-tat on the snare drum punctuated the rhythm, often making the drums the centerpiece of the songs and recalling jazz composer and producer David Axelrod's heavily-mic'ed drum arrangements.
Most easily classified as folk rock, the label doesn't quite do this band justice. For a three piece band, they make a lot of noise and create songs that are rich in texture. There is something ethereal about their music, and three songs into the set, the table of bikers behind me kept exclaiming how great the band was. On stage, the band was calm, with minor movements from Vasquez and Alcorn coming in the form of head-nodding and foot-tapping, but they still have a controlling presence through their consistent powerful playing. It feels like there is no other place they would rather be. Vasquez didn't waste time talking between songs--they just came one after another, with the only delays being caused by a couple of broken strings.
Vasquez and the Bearinger Boys played crowd favorites' "Tupac Song" and "Talking and Walking," which had their regular fans singing along. For the last two songs of the night, Vasquez switched over to an electric guitar. They ended their set with “Standin’ Strong,” a song only a few weeks old, that opened up into an extended jam and ended in a sea of applause, whistling, and yelling from the crowd.
For being new on the scene, John Vasquez and the Bearinger Boys have been prolific in their song writing. Their second cd, The Fight,
was released on June 20th, and they will follow that up with a third release in December. Greater things often call a band of this quality and rumor has it they will be moving to Chicago in the fall, so check them out while you still can. For up-to-date information on the band and a schedule of their shows, check out http://myspace.com/johnwolfvasquez.
© Gina Myers, 2009