See pics of the bands (and a birthday girl) in our slideshow.
Buxton, The Donkeys, Steve Reno & Wayne Wilkerson Rudyard's August 21, 2011
For a gig whose poster involved a tragic school-bus wreck, Sunday night's show at Rudyard's was anything but disastrous. True, the crowd may have been a bit thinner than expected, but between those with work and those starting back at school Monday, that's not too strange. Buxton continued doing what they do best, delivering a solid set of their ever-richer tunes to the delight of a crowd speckled with friends and other fans.
Gray-haired, ponytail-sporting Steve Reno opened up the evening, accompanied by Wayne Wilkerson. Fans of acoustic songwriters may have seen Wilkerson hosting the weekly open-mike night at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, as well as co-hosting Anderson Fair's Thursday-night "Songwriters In The Round" series.
Reno happens to be an old friend of Larry Sepulvado - that would be Buxton member Austin Sepulvado's father - from their days playing in California decades ago, but he's also Cody Swann of the Wild Moccasins' uncle. Life is strange that way sometimes.
Reno's country music harkens back to the old story-songwriters of the '70s, feathered with Neil Young and early Willie Nelson vibes, with some mighty-fine pickin' and a-singin.' His songs floated by like a breeze swooping through a pickup's open windows, and our favorite involved a cautionary tale about "soft shoulders and dangerous curves."
The Donkeys may have stolen this show out from an unsuspecting crowd's noses, including Aftermath. The energetic band of young Californians riffed off a rolling set of strong song after song, throwing the binding ropes of genres to the wind. There were hints of nearly everything in the canon they played: Blues, country, funk, rock, Americana, soul, Chuck Berry, Ravi Shankar, and more.
It brought to mind the big acts of the '70s that had a large blend of sounds and didn't worry about their music being labeled or filed a certain way, because everything was still rock and roll.
The smart songs eclipsed and blindsided the recorded material we'd previously encountered (which, upon further research, was from fairly early in the Donkeys' career). As the four bounded about the stage, they commanded the room and injected a dose of revelry into the crowd. It was simply four fellows playing music and having a lot of fun doing it.
That goes a long way towards a great show experience, and it doesn't hurt that the music was pretty wonderful to boot. The set list focused heavily on their newest album, with seven songs coming from Born With Stripes (Dead Oceans), which was released in late April.
Four more came from 2008's Living On the Other Side, with just one song predating that.
The Donkeys' prowess may have struck us unaware, but Buxton was certainly not upstaged. Their songs have become a rich gumbo full of tones, with newest members Austin Sepulvado and Haley Barnes having securely found their niches within the group. Harmonies, dueling guitars, smart bass lines, Justin Terrell's emphatic drumming, the touches of accordion and mandolin, and Sergio Trevino's singular vocals seem to come together in ways that make us wonder just how Buxton isn't a household name around the nation - yet.
As they wrapped up the harmony-laden opener "Mary Francis" to a round of applause while ushering in "Down In the Valley" with a dose of reverberating guitars, the grin grew on our cheeks. The band even paused to celebrate their loyal fan Katie Menowsky's birthday with a surprise cake before launching back into the set with the raucous "Blown a Fuse."
Buxton debuted a new song currently referred to as "Tarzan," a sad, sad number with a very upbeat feel to it. Trevino's strength as a songwriter really shines through in those moments, where the band has heads nodding until the vocals really catch the brain. It's hard to know what to say in reference to Buxton at this point. Sometimes we aren't certain there is anything new to be said.
We know what to expect when attending a Buxton show now - a very solid set full of smiles and good times, and great music. Hopefully New West Records' backing will work wonders, continuing to expand the band's reach and ensuring that those households do catch wind of our local heroes.
If you are among that crowd who hasn't caught Buxton yet, make sure to do so at our Houston Press Best of Houston® BestFest. They won't disappoint.
Personal Bias: I've been following Buxton for a hot minute (since 2006), so I definitely lean in their direction. It's well-deserved respect, however.
The Crowd: Around 80 of Houston's faithful who braved a Sunday-night show, regardless of work or school in the morning.
Quote Of The Night: "Thanks to The Donkeys for letting me use their bass. It's the best thing I've ever touched, and that includes last night, too." - Buxton's Chris Wise
Random Notebook Dump: Rudyard's has our favorite bar food in town. Get hip to it. Also, the dreamcatcher attached to Jason Willis' mandolin never fails to incite a smile on our face.
BUXTON SET LIST
Mary Francis Down In the Valley Blown a Fuse Fingertips "Tarzan" Boy of Nine Oh My Boy Feathers
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THE DONKEYS SET LIST
West Coast Raga Oxblood Nice Train Ceiling Tan Bloodhound I Like The Way You Walk Come On Virginia Bye Bye Baby Born With Stripes Excelsior Lady Downtown Jenny