March 25, 2013
Club Passim, Cambridge, MA.
Kevin Bowe is a busy man - always has been. Driven by independence and creativity, he blazes his own paths, and there are many. With a full career of songwriting for great artists including; Jonny Lang, Etta James, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Tommy Castro, John Mayall, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, his experience in both recorded and live music stands alone. He is also loyal to the
contemporary folk collective, collaborating with Alison Scott, Lissie Wright and Freedy Johnston.
Bowe's history includes backing Replacements front man and solo artist, Paul Westerberg. He was recently invited to join Westerberg and Tommy Stinson to cut a tribute LP for Replacements' guitarist, Slim Dunlap. Once the vinyl was cut, instead of riding the 'will The Replacements reunite?' wave, Bowe packed up his guitars, harmonica, and headed out on a national tour with Okemah Prophets, Peter Anderson and Steve Price.
We reviewed The Prophets 2012 release, Natchez Trace. The album has already entered our lyrical memories and become a reference point to compare other works. It reflects extensive experience with multiple styles of music. Rock, folk, blues, and punk, all blend together in timing and proficiency. Kevin Bowe and The Okemah Prophets are individually talented in their own right, but after six years of playing together, when they team up on stage, something entirely new is created. So when their nationwide tour came through New England to Club Passim, in Cambridge, MA, they were not to be missed.
Mike Gent (The Figgs, Graham Parker) opened the show, which pushed the edges of the punk, rock, folk barrier to the max. You can read that review here.
The Prophets opened the show with rapid fire, guitar licked, "I Found Out" from Natchez
Trace. The Bowe, Price, Anderson trio, are punk superheroes, fighting to stave off the bad music of the planet. I understood they were serious song writers, but they are also serious about moving a crowd. This track brought energy right to the stage and packed a power punch.
Kevin Bowe is a great front man and I'd even call him a band leader. Stage presence is one thing. Designing an interesting 'act,' is relative to the music and its followers. But engaging the audience exactly where they are at, is entirely different. Kevin addressed his audience constantly. He talked, made self effacing jokes, asked questions and shared great stories.
There was a Stevie Wonder joke that floated into a few riffs of "Living For The City." Whether he's hanging in the audience, singing on stage, or chatting with fans in person, Bowe is consistently genuine, bright and energetic. There is a seamless sense of identity and collaborative style that is unshakable. This eases a crowd, no doubt, brings them up to new ideas.
He also engages the band too, which is important, because a great performance brings out everybody's talent. No one in a band should be an island. This trio jammed, laughed, improvised and took risks. Yet the entire set was a fine tuned machine that reflected professionalism and careful planning.
Kevin thanked, acknowledged and showed pride, in his bandmates. Traveling on this tour together, there were some funny stories to share of their friendship on the road. Fans love to see cohesion in a band. We sense it right away.
Steve Price* on bass is a center point in much of the Prophets sound. Like the message of "The Devil's Garden," The Prophets rebel against the pressure of the music production scene. It's either real - or it's not worth their time. Steve Price's bass work scaffolds every song in a new way. His timing with Peter Anderson was great to watch. Kevin could step in and out
of this percussion section with ease, and when he added the harp it filled the room with a great blues vibe. Trusting a band like that, must be like closing your eyes and falling backwards.
"Gutters of Paradise" had a melodic theme, while the countrified, "Waiting For The Wheel" created a great shuffle. I loved, drummer, Peter Anderson's* recorded work on Natchez Trace and had looked forward to seeing him live. I was not disappointed. The only problem I had was that I could barely catch him on camera, he was so fast. The time changes in these songs are complicated and he frames it out easily.
"In Too Deep" is probably one of my favorite songs from Natchez Trace. I love the
textures of it and the lessons spoken in the lyrics. Hearing it live, the cymbals light shimmer over the warm vocals made the song sparkle.
Like a traditional folk hero, Kevin Bowe is a great storyteller. During "Fallen Satellites" he told us that until 34 years old, he didn't know anyone close to him who had died. But then "Lulu" his cat, had sadly passed because of Feline Leukemia. Steve Price bent some notes to keep the
background twang and rhythm going throughout the song. Great performance.
From the album, Love Songs and Murder Ballads, "No Riders" was written by Shannon Curfman and Kevin Bowe. This was in your face blues at its best. The intensity and raw grit showed The Prophets could bring it! I wasn't familiar with the song, but once I heard the first few riffs I
recorded it because I knew it would be great.
Watch/Listen: No Riders from Kevin Bowe and The Okemah Prophets.
I bought the track soon after the show and found the recorded version even more blues influenced than the live production. A lot more acoustic and run on percussions, with how low can you go notes, make this a dusty drive down to southern blues territory.
Warm harmonies smoothed out, "Every Little Bit Hurts," with Peter's drums providing mellow accents. There was some note bending distortion going on toward the end. It made the front row seat worth reserving to see that up close!
Chuck Prophet and Kevin Bowe wrote, "Barbed Wire and Dogs," also on Love Songs and Murder Ballads. This is a fun song that scissors a back and forth rhythm. Easily a crowd chant, it's a long standing favorite among Prophet fans.
Kevin Bowe, "This song, ("My Favorite Pain") starts out really sad and goes down hill from there." The band had total control of the sound. The tight trio, who have been together for six years, could handle any crowd, any set. Loved the whistle. No overproduction at all from the recorded track to live. They were keepin it real.
With a quick tune of the bass and a steady groove of the shakers, The Okemah Prophets set the stage for Kevin's hit, "Riverside". This tune reminded me of why I like folk rock. And more importantly, it validates my theory that punk artists make great folk bands. The band Ha Ha Tonka came to mind, new to the scene, but Kevin's song writing was way ahead of the curve and even before their time.
"Enough of this slow shit, let's do what we came here to do ..." Do you like the Replacements? "Valentine?" Westerberg? "Dice Behind Your Shades?" "Never Don't Stay" is in that same "in your face-catchy rhythm-fire chasing" vein that honors anyone with their heart on their sleeve. It's a great tune and a timeless one too. We were non-stop rockin.
"Just Restless" had Kevin telling us the secrets of Nashville and how some songwriters pull on our heart strings by 'taking (the vocals) way down,' to cover up the fact that they can't sing or just plain shallow. ha!
The last two numbers tore it up. This is why people like me drive two hours on a (still winter weather) Monday night to a vegetarian cafe, just to see a band. Kevin Bowe and The Okemah Prophets are in the core of the quality songwriting that comes out of the Minneapolis music scene. Their visit to our East Coast was an honor. To top it off, I got to see "Everybody Lies" played live. Knowing that Paul Westerberg co-wrote it, made the song historic in my notes. Kevin is not shy about being a Mats fan, and his tribute to the indie rebel style is non stop. "Everybody Lies" has that wonderful snark toward the mainstream music culture. Similar to Westerberg's Folker "Buy it now," "This is my single, this is my jingle" attitude, "Everybody Lies" pulls you to the other side of what musicians go through in the production of their songs.
They closed the night with the funky rocket song, "Power Trip," written in a throwback to a sci fi movie. This had the entire band airborne and the rest of us were twistin and shoutin too. It's a crazy tune that just won't stop until it sends you into orbit.
Songwriting, studio work, collaborations and live performances, Kevin Bowe and the Okemah Prophets can bring it to the music world with experience, professionalism and all out rockin good times. Catch them live if you can!
I Found Out
Gutters Of Paradise
Waiting For The Wheel
In Too Deep
Every Little Bit Hurts
Barbed Wire and Dogs
My Favorite Pain
Never Don't Stay
Biographies of The Okemah Prophets:
From Alison Scott's website:
*Steve Price is one of few A-list bass players in the Minneapolis music scene. His
long and varied music history includes being a founding member of Rex Daisy, the
much beloved '90′s alt/pop band signed to Geffen Records. Steve is also a
successful engineer/producer/mixer with expert certification in Logic and Pro
Tools. He worked with Alison Scott and also plays with The Suburbs and Freedy
*Peter Anderson on drums is a two-time recipient of the Minnesota Music Award for best
drummer. Peter has appeared as a drummer/percussionist on over 75 albums, and
performed over 1000 shows in North America, South America, Europe, and the
Caribbean. Notable career milestones: - first band, The
Bloods, was together for 13 years, owner/operator of a 30" Zildjian ride cymbal,
wrote a song composed of Herbie Hancock samples for the purpose of having Herbie
Hancock perform a solo over the middle eight. Attended the session where HH
recorded his solo. This leads to a gig as Whitney Houston's drum tech. This gig
as assistant engineer at Flowers Studio lead to replacing the drum track on the
2007 Brian Setzer Orchestra recording of the Monday Night Football theme for
ESPN. His work with Alison Scott lead to opening for Bon Jovi and an audience of
18,000 at the Excel Center in St.Paul. In addition to being Alison Scott's drummer since 2006, Peter also plays with the groups: Polara, The Honeydogs, The Ocean Blue, Freedy Johnston, Okemah Prophets, Willie Wisely Trio, Ryan Traster, and Reccordion.