Monday, February 16, 2009

Riverboat Gamblers. Riverboat Gamblers (Vile Beat, 2001)

"Part time in the hole/ Full time rock 'n' roll."

The first time I ever saw Texas psychotics the Riverboat Gamblers was on a Saturday night in the early aughts, at the eternal Beerland, on downtown Austin's Red River St. I was pretty lit by the time they took the stage (that's how Beerland rolls -- it's a drunk place), and didn't really know what to expect. But I know what I got: one of the livest live shows I've ever seen, complete with mike-stand swingin', stage divin', and eardrum blowin'. And afterwards I witnessed some smack shootin' in the bathroom, to boot. It was pretty effing great.

Specializing in beer-and-Beam-and-crank fueled maximumrocknroll a la the Supersuckers, the New Bomb Turks, the Hives, and the Candy Snatchers, these Lone Star Staters aren't aiming to win a Nobel Prize or break any new ground.They mix equal parts Ramones and Exile on Main St. to produce a vaguely southern-fried garage rock sound, long on hooks, overflowing with tight ragged riffs and jackhammer drums. It's big and dumb and hugely entertaining, sure to set your heart aflutter and your fists a'pumpin'.

The Gamblers have been around since the late '90s, cycling through numerous lineup changes and producing a handful of full-lengths and 7"s. Their eponymous debut came out in 2001: produced by Tim Kerr of legendary '80s Austin fun-punkers the Big Boys, the album ably captures the band's greasy, drunken charms, and stands as a handsome portrait of an ugly sound.

With 11 songs clocking in at a tidy 27:35, the Riverboat Gamblers aren't interested in wasting your time or theirs. They get in, get the job done, and get out, leaving the smoking wreckage for someone else to clean up. Most of these tracks are under three minutes, and aren't likely to let your attention wander, jam-packed as they are with frantic rhythms and molten fret work. Guitarists Fadi al-Assad (aka Freddy Castro) and Colin Jones (aka Colin Ambulance) buzz and rip with abandon, supported by Pat "Spider" Lillard on bass and the eight-armed Chris "Tuffy McKeller" Adams. Vocals are handled by Mike Wiebe, alternately known as "Teko Buller" or "Rookie Sensation," in a snotty, sneering slur capable of some primal barks.

Each track here is a punchy little champ. Jenna gets the album off the blocks with tightly-wound chording, non-stop shredding, and cymbal-heavy stomps. "High Roller" is a rabid statement of purpose, with shout along verses and choruses both. Don't Look at Me has a nice early Who feel, revved-up soul, amped handclaps, and wounded pride. The grinding central riff and tom-abusing beat of Whatever Whatever set the stage for some prime chaos, the sonic equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded theater. At over four minutes, closing track Kick In The Stereo is an epic by Gamblers standards, and the extra time pays off, letting the boys stretch out a bit and open up their sound: dual left-right solos pour from the speakers, irresistibly crunchy and sour/sweet, while a pounding barroom piano adds a nice new dimension to the attack.

The Riverboat Gamblers are troublemakers of the first order, armed with bad attitudes and blinding sharp chops. They only came here to do two things: rock your ass off and drink beer, and, well, you know the rest. Get the debut and get gone.