Crazy Chief At The Bunkhouse, Aug. 29

Wandered into the revamped Bunkhouse Saloon Friday to see what all the buzz was about. Revamped? It might be more accurate to say it’s been replaced. Hold on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The old Bunkhouse was a thrift-store cowboy boot — beat-up but still sturdy, game for improvisation, adaptation, abandon. The shiny new Bunkhouse seems to come from a shoe store in the mall. But where you got it matters less than what you do with it. There’s no continuity of the Bunkhouse’s original funk, but thankfully it's a renewable resource: With every show, I like to imagine all those chords and beats, shouts and whoops slowly crusting up on the walls, the floor, the stage and the bar, aging the place like a cheese. It shouldn’t take forever: the new Bunkhouse’s sound is amazing. You don’t so much listen as get sonically lacquered.
I suspect Crazy Chief did more than their share to dirty up the place Friday night. They play a swampy, Southern-inflected stoner rock, but the particular songs — each one more swooning and hooky than the last — didn’t transfix me so much as their operational courage. Let me explain. Bands have invisible rules of style and practice that guide them: We always do this, but we never do that. The compelling proposition of Crazy Chief is in watching them navigate the difficult rules they set up for themselves: We will fire and sputter our songs recklessly, but we will do so with near-military discipline. Sounds like a terrible idea, right? Those rules could be disastrous, resulting in something posed or precious or, worse, a calculated sabotage of their own talent. But with each sloshy lurch or woozy, aquatic riff, the band maintains. As they writhe and ooze on stage — lead singer Drew Johnson occasionally stumbling out of frame like a broken marionette — the effect is like watching not a band, but an organism emerging all mighty and trembling from a wholly improbable swamp. I went outside to take a break, and felt like I had come out of a deep hypnosis. It wasn't long, though, before I went eagerly back in.
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