Words and Images by Jake Krolick
Rose Hill Drive :: 12.07.05 :: World Cafe Live :: Philadelphia, PA
Rose Hill Drive wears Chucks. They walk in them and break them in, attempting to earn the status associated with the famed shoe. The Converse Chuck Taylors are shoes that quietly, unobtrusively speak to the achievement, originality, and attitude of those who don the canvas footwear. There they stood, black and blue canvas Chucks staring back at us like some unpainted masterpiece waiting to be created. This was the shoe that revolutionized basketball and infused itself in rock and roll's birth, and by most accounts, the heart and soul of America. The shoes continued to glare back at us from the feet of Rose Hill Drive. These band members are not quite the legends and heroes that made the shoes famous, but they are walking in them, breaking them in, and earning the status associated with a legend. It speaks volumes of the person wearing them. Yes, these are shoes of legends on feet that yearn to be great.
Rose Hill Drive :: 12.07.05
Load-in time was 2 p.m., but the band hadn't gotten off the road until 4 a.m. that morning. Nate Barnes was tired. It didn't matter to him, "We could be exhausted all day, but once we hit the stage and start playing, the music will suck us from our zombie-eyed daze."
At roughly 23 years apiece, Jake Sproul, Daniel Sproul, and Nate Barnes are living out their dreams as they rise through the ranks of heavily touring groups. They are trying to make it in a world filled with a multitude of rock bands. These guys work, practice, and play incredibly hard to continue making the music they love. They have hair that resembles the stars of 70's and 80's hair metal, like Twisted Sister, Great White, and Bon Jovi, but the music speaks for itself. No glam rock here; their sound is raw gladiator rock. They have shunned any digital pedals between them and their instruments, thus creating a sound very reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, The Black Crowes, or Band of Gypsys. It makes perfect sense that they play a pre-New Year's show at the Boulder Theater this year performing all of Led Zeppelin I. Life seems good as they ride on a streak of talent and luck that doesn't seem to quit. Their first tour was with Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons. Perhaps it was Jerry's intensity that started RHD out on the right foot. Maybe it was a later tour with another similar pair of brothers to the Sprouls, the Robinson brothers, who told RHD how much they dug their music. Perhaps it was the influence of listening to the Allen Woody days of Gov't Mule. Whatever it was, it seems this stripped-down, raw power trio has a serious ability to hurl flaming chunks of rock directly into your soul. Your body is forced to make a choice, reject and run or absorb and rejoice in the rampage of RHD.
Rose Hill Drive :: 12.07.05
Jake, Daniel, and Nate's shoes formed a rough triangle as they planted themselves firmly on the black mahogany of the World Cafe Live stage. The slim few who were familiar with Rose Hill Drive's music let go, but for a crowd filled with Rose Hill virgins, the mood was awkward. They didn't know what to expect, and looks can sometimes be deceiving. Jake ignited the fuse of the evening's dynamite with a kick of his shoe and the opening notes to "For So Long." The fuse burned for a while before any blasts could rock the crowd to their feet. Maybe it was lack of sleep, the early mix problems, or the lukewarm reception, but it took a solid three songs before the crowd came around. There was a gentleman talking to his friend who said, "I like some of their sound, but I can't understand why they're so loud." He hung back at the bar with the others as fans in-the-know made their way up the floor.
Daniel Sproul :: 12.07.05
Jake introduced us firmly to "Cool Cody." Their sound had gained a potent aggressiveness that punched through to even the most wary of ears. It was like a blind man who could finally see, and what he saw was a band that was talented beyond their years. Jake's voice was clear and vigorous. He stayed away from screaming us into corners and coaxed us to listen to what he sang.
"Cool Cody with his knife in the kitchen hunting me, Cool Cody with his razor itching on my sleeve." "It don't make you a man!"
Rose Hill Drive :: 12.07.05
Daniel frequently ducked behind a curtain of hair to let fly one of his spunky, thrusting solos. His patient fingers made the guitar punch forth notes with well-placed screams, all-the-while amping the mood. "Cool Cody" is a builder that runs on horsepower pulsing through it, a song that makes you want an open stretch of road to punch the gas. The music prods the band forward as they sway and move with an authority that shakes our growing numbers on the floor. We attempt to grab a breath before "Off to the Games" moves us into an even higher gear. I glance over to the left side, wouldn't you know, banging his head to the music is the same fellow complaining of decibel levels earlier. Ahh, the sheer power of Rose Hill Drive.
Jake Sproul :: 12.07.05
The Boulder boys don't usually say much on stage, but that's not really the point this evening. Jake must have been a bit punch drunk because he went into a small speech about the hair products they use (something along the lines of Pert Plus shampoo and Pantene Pro-V conditioner). They jerked back into the rock as Nate smashed his kit. Nate did a great job of holding the music together. He's not so much a glue between the Sprouls, but more of an interpreter. He held constant eye contact with Daniel and seemed to pass cues back and forth from both brothers. It makes sense to see his kit positioned forward on the stage holding an interesting role. Meanwhile, Jake's blaring bass takes on a field-like persona, a suitable setting for the conversations in gladiator rock between the three. My only question was, "Could the bass be turned up more in the mix or is it Jake's concentration on singing that keeps him from holding a deeper pocket?" They finished their set with guest Brian Layson from Will Hoge, or as Jake refers to him, "The bad mother fucker on guitar." The crowd had barely had enough when they walked from the stage, but not all was lost because RHD's manager clued us in on Will Hoge's plan for a special encore.
The scruffy Nashville rocker Will Hoge followed with a concrete set. To my disdain, his set featured more of a sing-along by the crowd than a John Bell and Friends annual charity show. Will has a great set of lungs and can dredge out an almost Springsteen-like energy. Unfortunately, the mixed fans of various ages and stages of intoxication stole the charm from many of his songs. Seriously, Will has my respect for standing up there and pushing through the cell phone sea of pictures, calls, and chants of "We love you Will!" The resonating venue was a perfect place for him to croon away on "Someone Else's Baby" and "Highways Home" with Brian Layson on pedal steel. His shout out to Philadelphia's rich, soulful history was quite enjoyable as he ripped up Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine." Listen ladies, we know you love Mr. Hoge, but could you please not scream it every 20 seconds? Brian Layson was the proverbial diamond-in-the-rough in this group. He stood strong as an ox, linking guitar riffs that held gusto and playing a soulful nasty pedal steel. Believe it or not, he managed all this without anybody screaming, "I love you Brian!" Am I glad I stayed? A huge "I love you Will!" yes.
Will Hoge :: 12.07.05
The grand finale was just that, since it was the last night of Hoge's run with Rose Hill Drive. Will Hoge and company warmly invited all of Rose Hill on stage for an eight-man assault on rock & roll. The goliath of a jam that followed, featuring Neil Young's "Keep On Rockin In The Free World" / "Hey Hey, My My," was fanfuckintastic. It was Will's chance to slap the wankers in the house who made his set less then enjoyable. The two bands pulled a Marty McFly and cranked the volume ten-fold, imitating the opening scene from Back to the Future. Will let spit and piss fly out of his mouth as he raged. You could see the front row take a good two steps back as the two drummers, three guitars, and two basses sent a wall of rock flying through the venue. Will smiled as Jake took hold of the vocals in a smooth pass-off of singing duty. The feelings of validation from the band spread quickly around the room as the crowd watched with mouths agape. Many of us just cut loose and shook. It was live music's best moment.
Will Hoge & Rose Hill Drive :: 12.07.05
Rose Hill Drive's Chucks gained a little more wear that evening, and Will Hoge showed why he was headlining. The next day, Rose Hill Drive faced another eight-hour drive to Cleveland and an early load-time. Would they love it? Sure. Would they rock the crowd senseless? You better believe it. Rose Hill Drive has enough hair, heart, and talent to sport the Chucks for all of us.
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