By: Mike Bookey
Hillstomp :: 06.07.08 :: Domino Room :: Bend, OR
There's a website devoted to listing 101 uses for Duct Tape. If the site is looking for a 102nd use for the silver adhesive, perhaps John Johnson, the drummer for Portland's gritty blues rock duo Hillstomp could lend a suggestion.
#102: Repair and maintain your drum kit and microphone stand.
As Johnson prepared for the duo's Saturday night show at the Domino Room, he sat at the front of the stage peeling strips of tape from a roll that has clearly seen some use, and speedily applied first aid to his drum set – a mix-and-match assortment of plastic buckets and can lids coupled with some actual drums and cymbals tossed in for good measure, all caked in layers of weathered Duct Tape.
But minutes later, Johnson was back on stage with the other half of Hillstomp, guitarist-vocalist Henry Kammerer, and didn't waste but a few seconds thumping his kick drum and pounding his buckets as Kammerer unleashed his howling slide guitar, setting a now crowded dance floor in motion. Only three cuts into the set, the band paid homage to one of its most obvious influences by launching into a raucous take on R.L. Burnside's "Poor Black Mattie." Kammerer's guitar sang in the North Mississippi blues vein that Burnside helped cultivate, but Johnson's down-and-dirty drumming gave the duo a punk rock attitude that brought another level of energy to an already energetic style of the blues.
The crowd at the Domino Room on this unseasonably cold Saturday was a seemingly strange congress of studded belts and tattoos alongside a much older, much grayer contingent – a mix that embodies Hillstomp's mix of old school blues sounds with the energy of the younger punk and indie rock scenes. This is a sound that Hillstomp has been crafting for most of this decade in their native Portland by combining both members' love for blues and folk with the punk rock ethos that thrives in their hometown. Now their reputation is spreading eastward thanks to a national touring schedule.
Henry Kammerer - Hillstomp|
While the duo isn't afraid to liberally pepper their setlist with covers of traditional blues numbers, as they did here, they do have a collection of originals including "Lucy's Lament," a thundering call-and-response rocker that featured both Kammerer and Johnson singing into Duct Tape laden microphones that appeared more appropriate for the P.A. system at a circa 1978 roller rink than as the mouth pieces for one of Oregon's more talked-about acts. The bedraggled mics, although inarguably cool looking, aren't just for show. What resulted were vocals that sometimes sounded as distorted as a conversation at a fast food drive thru, fitting perfectly with the junkyard finds of Johnson's drum set up.
Kammerer soon traded guitar for banjo, launching into two tightly wound cuts aptly named "Banjo Tune #1" and "Banjo Tune #2." The instrument switch-off twisted the duo's tone, providing a nice shift in the set, which broke up the rock-em-sock-em North Mississippi frenzy that enveloped the band at times. The introduction of the banjo, however, wasn't the only shift in instrumentation. On a few numbers, Johnson picked up a guitar, playing and singing along while keeping his feet pumping on the kick drum and his crafty tambourine-Duct-Taped-to-a-high-hat-pedal contraption, and on a couple numbers he strapped on a washboard.
John Johnson - Hillstomp|
Stopping only for brief moments to thank the crowd, the duo thundered on, never letting much steam out of their well-crafted machine. Kammerer, although seated for the entire show in true bluesman fashion, never quite sat still, whipping his head to the point that the bandana he had knotted around his forehead did little to maintain his ragged blond locks. Johnson's enthusiasm didn't wane at any point either as he rocked back and forth on his stool, twice sending his presumably necessary thick-rimmed glasses wayward along with his not-as-necessary baseball cap.
Leaving the stage to a frenzied response, Johnson and Kammerer returned for an encore that fittingly began with another Burnside favorite, "Shake 'Em On Down." The song is also familiar on North Mississippi Allstars' setlists, which is where much of the younger side of the audience had likely heard it before. And this begs one to wonder if the Dickinson brothers might sound a bit like Hillstomp if they'd have grown up in the Pacific Northwest and had an affinity for Duct Tape.
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