The Urban Lounge is slowly filling with a crowd of faces who I don’t usually notice around these parts. The country vibe is strong in this room and, as a frequent patron, I appreciate the change. I expect nothing less than late night rowdiness from everyone who comes out to see Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band on a school night.
The opening act is a local duo who go by the name of Ugly Valley Boys. Vocalist and guitar player Ryan Eastlyn sits on a chair at the center of the stage. In front of him is a bass drum that he kicks while Braxton Brandenburg smacks the strings to his upright bass. The neck of Brandenburg’s instrument is worn and torn with spotty marks of wood that have been exposed from the black gloss of the fret board. He shreds.
The Ugly Valley Boys have a no bull-shit sound that goes to show what you can do with the fundamentals of country music. Most of the Ugly Valley Boys’ songs are upbeat and in a minor key, which really brings out the best of that creeping, rocking quality of the bass riffs. Eastlyn’s voice especially thrives with their instrumental message of urgent despair. Eastyln growls when he sings like a love-sick grizzly bear. It makes even their brighter sounding pieces like “Raven” appear dark through his angry crooning.
The crowd receives them warmly. On the main floor, five couples are dancing unironically with each other, arms in arms, to the pounding of Eastlyn’s drum kicks. I know this shouldn’t be exceptional, but it is. The cool thing about good country music is that dancing is almost required. I look around and notice other pairs watching from the railings with looks of admiration, and also slight disappointment in themselves for not having the balls to jive with them. Either way, we are all getting caught up in their stomping tunes.
At the end of their set, Ugly Valley Boys play an acoustic cover of the Talking Heads song “Psycho Killer,” in which Eastlyn warps David Byrne’s “fa fa fa fa’s” into a surprisingly gritty country snarl. He even breaks his A string midway through the song. However, this does not stop Eastlyn, as he simply turns his guitar on its side, rips out the limp wire, and resumes his furious picking until they’re good and done with it.
The Ugly Valley Boys leave the stage with the promise of new song recordings, a music video and a brief hiatus from playing shows. Based on the crowd’s reactions, I think it’s safe to say that we are all pretty glad we caught these guys before their break from live performances. As Eastlyn explains, however, they only played this show to see Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. My hopes are high.
By now, the main floor is packed with a wide demographic of people. To be honest, I was expecting a lot more ten-gallon hats and boots than what I’m seeing, but I’m not disappointed. When Peyton and his posse take the stage, they’re greeted with saloon-style whistling and hollering. Sporting a pair of workman’s overalls and a scruffy beard, Peyton looks like he just finished picking crops for 10 cents a barrel. He’s followed by his washboard player (and spouse) Breezy Peyton, and drummer Ben Bussell, who uses an upside-down bucket for a tom drum.
Without much introduction, the Big Damn Band take us back eight decades. Peyton finger picks the living hell out of an actual 1930 steel-bodied National guitar. Imagine Robert Johnson’s “Crossroad” at about twice the speed. His singing is not pretty, and it doesn’t need to be. He bellows his words like a Tennessee rail worker with a mouth full of chew, and I think I’m swooning.
Luckily for us, the Big Damn Band announces that they’re going to play a lot of new songs from their upcoming record. During the piece “Pot Roast and Kisses,” Breezy walks to the front of the stage and gives a mean eye to the crowd as she drags her thimbled fingers up the grooves of her washboard in a way that sounds like a rattle snake. Personally, I’ve never seen a washboard played before, but Breezy’s contribution is not just for gimmicks. That washboard sounds like train wheels, boots and clapped hands all over the top of Bussell’s stomp-style drumming.
Even still, I catch my gaze going back to Peyton’s possessed fingers. In a song called “Let’s Jump a Train,” Peyton challenges the crowd and says, “When this record comes out, people are going to say that we did this song with two guitars. I want y’all here to tonight to see this and tell them you saw me do it with one.” So I will tell you now, I shit you not, Peyton plays power chords with his thumb while the rest of his hand fiddles the melody underneath it. It’s unreal. And during his next song, “Front Porch Trained,” Peyton explains that getting to his level comes with a lot of nights plucking away in his own front yard—no training needed.
New songs aside, the Big Damn Band play a lot of crowd favorites such as “Devils Look Like Angels,” “Something for Nothing,” “Mama’s Fried Potatoes,” and “Clap Your Hands” where the entire crowd stomps the triplets between verses so that the whole floor of Urban Lounge pulsates. Peyton even does a slower cover of Charley Patton’s sliding tune, “Some of These Days,” which brings the audience down some. However, with their last tune, which I’m pretty sure was a longer version of “That Train Song,” Breezey brings everyone back up by lighting her washboard on fire and swinging it around the stage. The place erupts into a cacophony of voices, boots, bending strings and struck buckets.
Of course, the trio are demanded back on stage for an encore. Peyton, all smiles, asks the rambunctious crowd whether they want something slow or fast. When everyone screams, “Fast,” he begins to play the slowest, saddest sounding blues lick he can probably think of, laughs at everyone’s protests, and then screams “Two Bottles of Wine!” We’re immediately locked back into the quick-paced, call and response tune, and the show ends with the joyous vibe of an all-too-appropriate drinking jig.
Peyton thanks the audience for giving them a good time, and walk off to the merch table to chat with their grateful fans. On the floor, friends turn to each other in small groups with the raised-eyebrow looks of someone who’s been blown away. I share the expression. If the Big Damn Band is considered “blues,” then they’ll have to answer for the energy they left in Salt Lake City: smiles, laughing, and empty bottles of wine.