Bang on this

What would it sound like if someone were daring enough to mix country music with punk rock? Easy answer: the Violent Femmes. Better answer: Portland natives Hillstomp.

What would it sound like if someone were daring enough to mix country music with punk rock? Easy answer: the Violent Femmes. Better answer: Portland natives Hillstomp.

The newly esteemed DIY-bluesmen Hillstomp are playing at Dante’s on Saturday night, and it’s bound to be an historic moment that will define the shape of punk to come as it exists in Oregon. Three-chord punk and heavily standardized indie-pop should no longer make the cut in P-town. There’s simply too much competition. In the new age, concertgoers will demand the banjo, and banjo they will get. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a very good thing.

Despite whatever prejudice comes to mind when you think of “The South,” there is one thing about this often-parodied part of the United States that you simply can’t make fun of, no matter where you live. And that thing is the music of northern Mississippi, where the musical style of old-fashioned delta blues was invented, perfected and sold to the devil, only to be brought back 50 years later, brought back to life á la Frankenstein, in the unlikely confines of a Portland basement.

Obviously, whenever you revive a forgotten art form, the modern version is going to be slightly different. And in Hillstomp’s case, slightly improved. Since the inception of blues in the 1930s, musical technology has improved exponentially. There were no drum machines, distortion pedals or electric guitars in the pre-Zeppelin era, and you as a listener are allowed to interpret that fact as either woefully archaic or indubitably classy.

What is not open to interpretation, however, is that Hillstomp takes classy back to the caveman days, and the way they interpret the blues comes off in such a way that would scare the hell out of their early-century contemporaries. It is feasible to say that Hillstomp’s guitarist Henry Kammerer and drummer John Johnson’s dual-vocal attack and heathen lifestyle would have inspired a heavily armed mob in the 1930s. But today, people eagerly pay money merely to be in their presence, which is indeed a “sound” investment.

Aside from their reputation as a great live band, one of the things that initially attracted me to their music was the fact that they have a song on their 2005 The Woman that Ended the World release “N.E. Portland 3 A.M.” I think that is important, because anyone who has actually chilled out in northeast P-town at three in the morning knows that it is not nearly as frightening as residents of Lake Oswego pretend it is. More groovy than sketchy, the neighborhood is an adept metaphor for Hillstomp’s music: unpretentious, stereotype-defying and goddamn funky.

I should make it clear that when I say that Hillstomp is a punk-influenced band, that doesn’t mean that you should go to their concert expecting NOFX or Anti-Flag. It is better to compare their style to Flogging Molly’s. Hillstomp plays traditional music that simply finds itself being extremely badass at times. There is no political agenda, not much sarcasm, and hardly any spitting. But the duo did band together over a mutual love of beer. The drummer plays a homemade drum kit made out of Weber grill lids, trash cans and cardboard boxes, and he isn’t afraid of the kick-snare kick-kick-snare beat that made Pennywise and Offspring famous.

Hillstomp is kicking off a semi-national tour in support of their recent live album, After Two But Before Five, recorded during two rocking nights (one in Eugene and the other in Portland). If you go see them Saturday night at Dante’s, make sure to listen for the songs “Jackson Parole Board Blues” and fan favorite “In The Hole.” This is a band everyone can find a way to love, and their vintage sound will make you walk away from the show with a new appreciation for slide guitar, as well as newfound respect for the genre.

HillstompDante’sSaturday, Oct. 6th $5 in advance, $6 at the door 21 and over