Horse Latitudes

Boogie-rock meets the classics

Without hyperbole I can say that Drunk Horse is one of the Bay Area’s best bands right now, and certainly one of the best bands ever to come out of Oakland. A powerful stage show, interesting and solid songwriting, and good ol’-fashioned youth combine to make a cute ‘n’ cuddly mix of blissful, tinnitus-inducing showmanship. The band manages to fuse Southern rock with progressive rock and punk, making it a total anomaly, especially in the East Bay.

Drunk Horse has just released Tanning Salon/Biblical Proportions, a “concept” album on Frank Kozik’s label, Man’s Ruin. The band formed in 1998, with songwriter Eli Eckert on guitar and vocals, “Cripe” on drums, John Niles on guitar, and Cyrus Comiskey on bass. Everyone except Comiskey came outta Arroyo Grande, a semirural community along the coast halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Yearning for better climes and corner liquor stores, the fellas moved up to Oakland and started putting something together.

That “something” has proven hard to define musically, and that’s fine with the band. Too many reviewers refer to the band’s music as “classic rock,” which puzzles them. And Lordy, do not compare them to the Black Crowes, as one writer did. “It was a positive review,” says Eckert, “and then at the very end it said, ‘Oh, one last thing. This band really sounds like the Black Crowes a lot, and I hate the Black Crowes.'” The only similarity that I can see is that both rely on blues licks, but jeez, that can be said for all rock bands.

“I see a lot that the bands that are doing the same kind of thing that we are doing get slammed presswise, for borrowing from the past so much.” Eckert says. Ah, the dreaded retro word. “Yeah. People just think it’s invalid, as if Led Zeppelin was some big joke, just because they ruled the high school parking lot so many years ago.”

So Drunk Horse has been unfairly pigeonholed into the neoclassic rock camp, with reviewers also comparing it to Ted Nugent, of all things. (The band would like you to know that none of them even owns a Ted Nugent record–well, none except Comiskey, who owns three. But this is a guy who showed up for the interview in a Manowar T-shirt!) The music itself is a hybrid of classic rock and experimentation; it has the progressive elements, without a pretension that drives you nuts, like ELP or “math rock.”

“I’ve heard people say about us that we have the ability to play stuff that people who hate anything other than AC/DC will buy,” says Eckert. “It’s because of the way that it is put across. We can sneak things in there that are more progressive, and it doesn’t irk them because we have this boogie-rock basis to the whole thing. It’s like the little spoonful of sugar that lets the medicine go down.”

And did I mention that they love the East Bay? They don’t live over here because they have to; they live over here because they want to. “It’s kind of fucked up, though,” says Eckert, “because being a band here, you can’t really play here. So the bands that hit any recognition in the East Bay are bands that can play at Blake’s or the Starry Plough or the Ivy Room, which are really the only places you can play. We can’t play at any of those places because we are too loud.”

So, in the end, how do they describe their music? “Tell me what you guys think about this.” Eckert says to the rest of the band, “Blues-based rock with progressive leanings.” “Yeah,” replies Comiskey, “that’s pretty much the least offensive way you could say it!”

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