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Unholy Getdown

Stevie Wonder, Prince and Martin Sexton combine in the Mighty Orq's tasty blues-rock stew

You know, it has become fashionable in some quarters, even here in Texas and even among some who profess to love the blues, to hate on Stevie Ray Vaughan. There's a whiff of bourgeois classism to some of this -- middle-class hipsters hold bikers in equal measures of fear and disdain and hate jocks, and bikers and jocks make up a healthy chunk of the blues-rock audience.

On musical grounds, though, you can somewhat see the haters' point: After all, what does even a grade-A Texas blues-rock power trio, or any guitar-based trio, for that matter, have to offer that hasn't been done a thousand times before, by either Stevie or ZZ Top or any number of lesser fry? And haven't we heard enough of this sort of thing? Hell, eight or nine years ago you couldn't swing a cat without hitting three or four "next Stevie Ray!" blooze shredders -- one Internet wag dubbed the lot of them "teenaged Blondy McPentatonics."

If your answer to those questions is "absolutely nothing" and "hell yes," you owe it to yourself to try the following experiment. Go to a bar. Drink two Lone Stars. Slam a shot of Don Julio tequila. Suck on a lime. And then go over to the jukebox and dial up "Cold Shot," "Just Got Paid" and "Texas Flood." Or just drive over to the Big Easy some Monday night and check out the Mighty Orq.

In either case, if you divorce yourself from your hipster conditioning and live in that moment, you'll be pleasantly surprised. It happened to me this past year at South By Southwest in Austin -- Stevie Ray was playing on the speakers between sets of a couple of new and trendy bands, and he was blowing them away from beyond the grave. I felt the piercing stabs of the guitar and the soul-drenched vocals and thudding punches of the rhythm section, and I realized then that fashion doesn't matter. As the booze warmed my belly and the music roared, I could see the room lift, and I realized that 99 times out of 100, all that racket and hype from the labels is meaningless. The vapid music bloggers touting the latest lame reiteration of Joy Division, Pitchfork's latest find that the indie sheeple hive-mind simultaneously adopts as one, and the scribes for the trendy music rags and their absurd second comings of the Velvet Underground -- it's almost always all as triflin', bitchy and shallow as the world of catwalk fashion.

People think fashion-rock. They calculate and take positions on bands, based on some theory of theirs that has nothing to do with music and everything to do with some bizarre notion of hipster cred.

On the other hand, people simply feel blues-rock. And blues-rock, especially that produced by the Mighty Orq, feels mighty, mighty good, especially in the Big Easy on a Monday -- as sweet and natural and organic to this habitat as the sound of seagulls laughing does at the beach. Along with honky-tonk, it is the official sound of the rapidly disappearing world of two-fisted, hard-drinking Anglo, urban and suburban, blue-collar Texas, and Orq is one guy who's bringing something new to the table.

The long-haired, bearded, 27-year-old Orq starts this set pretty early. He takes the stage around 9:30 to deliver a set of Robert Johnson-style solo acoustic slide-guitar blues. Orq, born Joshua Davidson, plays a National Reso-Phonic guitar in this setting, and he is as masterful at it as anybody in Texas right now. Unlike so many young blues players, Orq knows how to relax. His playing, while fast at times, is never show-offy or forced, and his singing is just as laid-back, but more on that later.

At about 11, the other two components of the trio -- skinny bassist Westside Johnny and bearded, doo-ragged drummer Matt Johnson -- join him on the stage. Orq packs up the Reso-Phonic and whips out a Stratocaster and proceeds to kick ass. His originals -- especially show-stoppers like "Unholy Getdown" and the Zeppelin-esque "Sweet In-Between" -- show off excellent arranging skills. The band is big on crescendos and soaring passages, and the riffs sear their way onto your brain. My only complaint is that the guitar can get somewhat buried in the mix under the bass and especially the drums.

The one thing that sets apart the good blues-rock from the great is the vocals. Orq is that rare singer who is blessed with a good set of pipes and also knows how to use them. In my view, there are precious few great white blues-rock singers. Gregg Allman and, less so, Billy Gibbons are two, and Orq's nicotine-stained, tequila-coated baritone is similar to theirs, both tonally and in that he doesn't overemote.

Orq, who got his start as a sideman for Tony Vega, has internalized the key concept of playing any blues-based music: It ain't always what you play. Just as often it's what you don't, the space you leave between the notes.

"I think for a long time, I did kinda sing a little wild," Orq says after the show. "Singing's weird. Eventually you learn to use what you have. You've got to take what you have and then work with it enough to learn what you can and can't do. I learned a lot about doing that from guys like Stevie Wonder [Orq covers his 'I Believe'] and Martin Sexton."

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