Originally published in Eleven Magazine
Utah-based rock group Desert Noises don’t do things the hard way. They take their time getting into town, setting up their gear, opening up a main riff. They enjoy themselves.
There’s no rush about them or sense of impending doom, no fear of rejection. They’ve been playing together since their teens and they’re very comfortable on stage and off, both with each other and their fans. And they’re young as hell. Probably not so young as other indie bands that burned bright quickly only to fade away (The RedWalls come to mind), but young enough to leave you wondering how they do what they do.
The oldest member of the group, guitarist/frontman Kyle Henderson, has a freshly-minted 24 years of age on his shoulders, while the youngest of the group is a scant 21. Which means that when the first time I saw them play at LouFest in 2013, they were even younger. And I was just as amazed then as I was last night. These guys made my watchlist for a reason. Heartfelt rock ‘n’ roll and ethereal jams that evoke packing your entire life into a hatchback and moving out west for a girl. The band finally returned to the Duck Room, at the beginning of a tour in support of their new record, “27 Ways.”
For a peaceful Sunday evening, the Delmar Loop was even more quiet than usual and the Duck Room was no exception. While the handful of swooning girls lamented the loss of an adequate-sized crowd for their heroes, the band seemed entirely unfazed. “We played here sometime last year,” Henderson told me later, “we were the only ones on the bill and there were about 70 people here. Not sure what happened tonight,” he said, completely unfazed.
Portland trio Modern Kin opened the set. Having regrouped and subsequently released a brand new album under the production-clout of Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney), the band contrasted their timid demeanor between songs with that of a fiery, soulful, back-breaking performance, howling at the stone ceiling, trying to stomp all the memorabilia from the wall. “This is our first time in St. Louis,” singer/guitarist Drew Grows admitted. And even though the venue was sparse, Modern Kin played with such fervor, you got the impression they didn’t even realize you were in the room. As though they were back in their basement, writing songs. But they only seemed comfortable with each other while they were in the midst of playing.
The music is meandering and explosive, bursting into calculated indie rock riffs of the likes of Tom Waits or Talking Heads. The band’s unique take is characterized by their willingness to push the trio format to its logical boundaries. Everyone in the band pulled double duty, sometimes taking on two or three different instruments. No one seemed more workhorse than bassist Kris Doty, who hammered at her cream-colored Richenbacher before picking up a solid wood double bass, then moving to the synth at her right, all while singing back up and harmony. Drummer Jeremiah Hayden hit cleanly and methodically, corroborating Grows’ equally hell-bent and eager guitar work. One of the best tracks played was “Wicked Crush,” which featured an interesting array of circus rhythms and tritones. The band found its stride quickly, only pausing for the occasional sip of Stag and to remind the fans that there was merch for sale. They concluded the set with “Groundwire,” belting out a soulful, instrument-bending, gut-wrenching chorus.
Desert Noises, by contrast, write overtly romantic, Americana-infused rock, that seems timeless, yet inspired. Henderson’s vocals are the perfect pitch of whiskey-drenched and roaring — gravel when he needs it, soft as a feather when the light hits. Bassist Tyler Osmond (he does hail from that magic family), draped his bass so low, nearly to his knee caps. Krist Novoselic low. At times, I felt like my father, fighting the urge to yell “Pull up your bass!” But it worked for him, allowing him to swing about and have fun with his bandmates and still keep the low end from escaping. And though he does fine work there, most of his energy goes into vocalizing with Henderson, singing through nearly every lyric in parallel harmony. It’s a great effect, one that makes a lasting impression on the ears.
Brennan Allen on drums has the hair of Blake Anderson, a wooly mammoth of white-boy afro that he looks like he’s trying to shake from his head as he plows through triplets & rolls. It’s a sight to behold, but none more alluring than lead guitarist Patrick Boyer, who appears to operate as the band’s George Harrison, hanging in the background and being called to the spotlight only as needed. Indeed, when he does step forward, it’s to galvanize an electrifying solo that seems to belie his years. The band started off with one of their flagship singles, “Tell Me You Love Me,” before launching into “Follow You Out,” with galloping drums and fingerpicked notes plucked from Henderson’s 1966 Harmony archtop, which offered just the right concoction of distorted fuzz and ethereal strums.
Able to move easily from their classic rock strategy into something more dance-infused, Osmond’s bass had a habit of kicking in and taking the lead, calling to mind infectious riffs from Minus The Bear. The knock-out set ended with an incredible, slide-heavy cut titled “Dime in My Pocket”. Wholly and unabashedly inspired by the electric blues of Jimmy Page, the song absolutely torched the stage. All eyes were fixed on Boyer riffing in open tuning, while the band drove the stompbox beat into the floor. If this is what the band is selling, everyone just bought it. A band destined for great things, so long as they keep plugging away and having fun. So keep them on your watchlist.