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November 2009     Web Edition     Issue #3

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Deap Vally

Live & CD

by Jerry Jewett

Photos Courtesy of Big Hassle Publicity

Sometimes things happen curiously, or rather, curiosity finds more than it sought. There I was, Tuesday, September 17th, with my Fender Showmaster stuck in the shop at McCabe's Guitars for upgrade work. I borrowed a few moments from office work on the computer to peruse the Fender website, the better to drool over the amp I would like to get to enhance my sound. That 65 Twin Custom 15 is still on Fender's website, thank God!

Looking deeper into this amplifier's back story, Fender features an Artists section, citing the many, many groups who have a member who plays through a 65 Twin Custom 15. I never see one of these amps in a music store, yet I would very much want to hear one before dropping $1,500 or so to BUY one, right? See who plays them? OK, a host of unknown groups scroll past me; I see Deap Vally. Who? The curiosity flag runs up.

Google me silly as I noodle around. Deap Vally is Lindsey Troy on guitar and vocals with Julie Edwards on vocals and drums. They're from SFV, brought together by serendipity if not kismet, and getting known from playing just LOTS of places. Forget the Hotel Cafe gig where Marilyn Manson heckled them at first. They got a slot at Coachella in 2013, they found an audience at Glastonbury this year, and they have warmed the stage in many another venue on other continents, more than in the U.S.

Two piece groups (not to be confused with duos like Brooks and Dunn, or Simon and Garfunkel) don't spring up every day. Probably everyone knows The White Stripes or some other power duo, but it's not your everyday combination. So I got more curious still. Checking their fall touring schedule, it comes to pass that they are playing The Glass House in Pomona.

Now classical music is my favorite musical genre, with folk/Americana/bluegrass/Celtic and ethnic/world music artists as a distant second and third. The last "clubs" I had been in were Altadena's Coffee Gallery Backstage, hearing the amazing musician women of Sugar in the Gourd and the great and uplifting harmonies of Run, Boy, Run, or at the Roof Garden of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, enjoying amazing folk music from other cultures. The Viper Club and Whisky A Go Go venues have a compressed, hectic, artificial feel to them, sort of that Music Marketing Practicum thing, so I haven't been in a Sunset bar in a long time.

But when I saw that Deap Vally was playing in Pomona, and realized that I would not have to go to Sheffield, England, or Brisbane, Australia, to hear them, I revved up. I did more Internet research, reading interviews, articles and reviews, filling info gaps.

In her teens, Lindsey and her sister were The Troys, a folk duo. That ramped up to an album deal, an album that got made but never got distributed. Lindsey was unhorsed for a while,casting about for a musical future. She found it. Deap Vally is a group dedicated to reviving guitar-based hard rock, that's what I heard. Sounded like a good program to me. Original and talented musicians, that has the right ring to it. Only $12 to hear them at The Glass House in Pomona? Done deal!

I motored over there Thursday the 19th on my BMW F650GS with the idea that The Deaps might play at 9:30, so I was there over an hour early. Fact was, they played last, at 10:30, which let me very much settle into the venue and enjoy the preceding bands, as much as I could. One group was quite strange, giving a performance so kinetic I marvel that the four men in the group retain their health.

Another duo of drums and guitar got the stage for a while, two gents: a powerful and charismatic drummer, with the guitarist/singer displaying considerable technical expertise and inventiveness at music-making, without touching any resonant chord within me. I do tend to listen to lyrics (or listen for them, as the case may be), and the story told by the lyrics (if there is one) determines if the song works for me.

There is a place on the dance floor where a solid jet of cold air pours out of the air conditioning system. A remarkably pretty and friendly young woman and I met at that chilly spot to enjoy the cool, where she struck up a conversation, "Who are you here to see?"

Deap Vally, I replied, sounding like their publicist. This young woman had not heard of DV, so I gave her a condensed rendition of what I had read on the Internet, that Julie was teaching a crochet class in Silver Lake, where Lindsey became a student. They got to talking, one thing leads to another, and here they are as a world-touring band, headliners in a concert hall in Pomona. The young lady asked me what magazine I wrote for and my name, then had to take off briefly, as her female friend was exiting.

Moments after, I saw Julie Edwards in jeans and a black Led Zep T-shirt next to me. I asked if she wasn't the drummer for Deap Vally, which she confessed. I told her her pictures are good, and that I had never heard of them until Tuesday, but when I did, I had to be there. I made no introduction, as when I am covering a band for a story, it's just as well not to let on that I am covering them for a story, if it's someone I don't already know from my social set, which is heavier to writers (novelists not song-writers) than musicians, but includes some great musical talents. She confirmed they were next.

After the prior band, the stage crew got things set up. Lindsey has two Fender Mustangs on stage, the blue one and one that looks like natural walnut (from a distance). Having a backup guitar is a necessity to a touring pro. A second, partial drumset was set up, near the drum kit Julie plays.

When they took the stage, there was none of that chit-chat some groups use to "break the ice." They just started playing. In the first measure or so, it became evident that this was going to be some worthwhile band to hear. I did not know their set list nor their lyrics, so I did not remember exactly what they played, though I have since got their CD, the recently released "Sistrionix," so I now know tune names.

They played End of the World, Baby I call Hell, Walk of Shame, Gonna Make My Own Money, Your Love, Lies, Bad for my Body, and Raw Material. There don't seem to be any ironies or "inside jokes" to these songs, just solid tunes. One of them has said their work is in "post, post, post feminism." Sure sounded good to this old boy.

In the Internet research, someone trying to describe them said, "Imagine Janis Joplin and able to play lead guitar." That did pique my interest considerably, but I found the case to be otherwise. Vocally, Lindsey Troy has a very strong, evocative, well-controlled voice, with none of the pain of Janis Joplin.

If Gretchen Wilson turned her back on Nashville, took off for Memphis in a pink Pontiac Tempest to pursue a blues career, and cranked it up about two notches, she could sound like Lindsey Troy. Very good pipes, skillfully employed, imbue authenticity into each song she sings.

Julie has a very strong, yet almost sweet, voice, which features in quite a few of their songs. We would have to call Lindsey the lead vocalist, but without Julie's voice, the music would not be so good. Lindsey gets to prance and cavort about the stage, while Julie is locked down to them drums, but her voice gets up and about. Honors divide equally, I would say. In fact,when I checked Wikipedia about them on Friday the 20th, only Lindsey was credited with vocals. I edited that article to acknowledge Julie's vocals. I wonder if the change was accepted by the editors? Must check.

Lindsey plays thunderous deep guitar, big, driving, pounding guitar. She knows the deep end of the guitar quite well. What and how she plays now shows she re-trained herself quite extensively after walking away from the folk music genre. She plays with a spare yet confident style, not minimalist, just spare, somewhat like the guitarists in Free or Bad Company used to play. Even more, her guitar style reminded me of Steve Marriott of Humble Pie, restrained but rich in tonal inflections and content. When she was not playing like Tommy Iommi of Black Sabbath, etc., that is. She showed a complete control of her guitar, with a very good eye [ear] for simple yet effective, and occasionally stunning, tones, and rock-solid flawless timing.

On one song, a third woman took the stage, whose name I missed. She was the drummer for one of the previous groups, who was playing the half-kit, standing up. She is friends with Lindsey and Julie, I think. I forget which tune it was, but having strong women drummers playing in tight synchronicity with a woman guitarist carrying the show to the footlights made for a great punchy tune. Good as that was, I was only minimally sad to see her go, for The Deaps really do pull it off very well with "just two." One might say, "An Army of two," but really, their rock band has a big sound.

When the show was over, Lindsey very gratefully thanked the crowd, and gave credit to all the great bands who had shared the stage that night, an exemplar of good manners.

Attending a Deap Vally concert in a big hall with a substantial crowd (yet never crowding the hall) really lifted my spirits. Blues-based rock is my favorite amplified music. Seeing and hearing Deap Vally resonated well with me, in a way that lasted long after the show was over. In fact, as I started to leave, who should I see but that same very attractive and pleasant young lady to whom I had recounted my sparse stock of knowledge re DV. This gal looked as if she had been looking just for me, and her eager statement to my "What did I tell you?" was "Melt your face off!" I asked if she and the other gal, now present again, were sisters, as they might have been. "Girlfriend" was her comfortable response, to which I opined, "sometimes it happens that way.

As the next day was a work day and the time was after 11:30, I omitted staying after and hoping to schmooze with the band. I expect they probably got 100 hangers-on. Until the highway construction on the 10 Freeway around San Dimas forced everyone off the freeway, 90 mph seemed like the best cruising speed after a show like this.

Classical music recordings satisfy the greater part of my musical appetite, while my budget is often not geared to grandiose live entertainment (e.g. Bad Company plays L.A. County Fair at end of September, but I'm not springing $170 for a ticket). For those reasons, I have not been to that many rock shows or concerts. I have heard Jefferson Starship, the Grateful Dead, Johnny Winter, the Eagles, Mick Fleetwood and Friends, the Rolling Stones, James McMurtry, and Humble Pie live in concert (twice for the Pie). As I was riding home, I realized that the combined satisfaction I get from a great musical performance (intellectual and emotional satisfaction intertwined) varies directly with who performed. I got the same satisfaction out of hearing Deap Vally as I did with the Stones and Humble Pie (twice with the Pie). I couldn't say better than that.

These two have a sense of confidence and authenticity that makes their show very refreshing. I have become accustomed to limited venues where there is seating for 50 or less. The Glass House has no seating but room for hundreds to stand or dance. In this larger space, the quality of the show and the content of the songs brought some intimacy even into the bigger space.

Julie really runs that drum kit for all it's worth,with tremendous energy and precision, yet she never overdoes it. The CD lacks some of the marvelous drumming of the live show. The live show lets the vocals be buried a bit deep in the mix; the CD is better at letting their voices soar, but these two women have real voices, can sing, and have some catchy tunes, to boot,so their voices should feature more prominently. One would hope that the next album brings out their voices more fully.
Baby I call Hell, the second tune on the album, features not just lyrics but also some wordless vocal stylings that lightly resemble the wildly Dionysian yelps and energy of "Combination of the Two" by Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin.

If esthetics mattered, these two have some fashion designers who put fancy, pretty tops together for them to wear on stage. These Deaps glitter and glow warm and sparkly. Barefoot and in cutoffs or short shorts, they eschew spike heels and fishnets, exuding a proletarian or farm-girl wholesome sexiness, rather than being stylized femme fatales. Women approaching the full flower of femininity describes them.

I was listening to Track 11, Six Feet Under, the slow, intense blues tune at the end of the Sistrionix album by Deap Vally. Usually, when the last song is over, I turn off the CD player, or stop it and put in a fresh CD. This time, I did neither. It kept playing.

The result was that I heard the haunting "hidden" or bonus track. As it is subsumed under Track 11 but clearly not a bit a part of Six Feet Under, I will simply call it the Homage to Old People Who Were Young Once. Julie sings it a capella, with light tambourine percussion, with Lindsey chiming in at key points. It is almost a lovely song, and shows a dimension of the group that is not all loud-and-fast. What a delightful treat!

Are they after-born children of the Summer of Love? Despite modern technical resources and socially contemporary material, they have some of that Throwback Sound to the best of the early 1970s. With respect and admiration, I say, "I admire your work. Keep on Truckin'!"