Bustle In Your Hedgerow | 11.29 | S.F.

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Jay Blakesberg

Bustle In Your Hedgerow/Guitarmageddon :: 11.29.08 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA

Marco Benevento – Bustle :: 11.29 :: San Francisco
There’s being a cover band and there’s paying proper homage to another band. The latter can become problematic when one is dealing with black magic and jaundiced, Nietzschean despair. These are risky sandpits to shove your hand into, which makes Bustle In Your Hedgerow‘s clever, exuberant handling of Led Zeppelin and Guitarmageddon‘s tone perfect, slightly nuanced reading of Nirvana all the more impressive. Both bands wrestled behemoths at The Independent and came away relatively unscathed, but such is the self-made good fortunes of young men with a mind to stamp their names into rock.

Ever since Stephen Davis’ super popular 1985 bio of Zep, the phrase “Hammer of the Gods” has been inextricably attached to Led music, and there’s something to be said for wrestling tools from the hands of titans. If you don’t set foot on the rainbow bridge then you certainly aren’t going to snatch Thor’s mallet, and it follows that musicians sharpen their skills, refine their musical character, by engaging with great works that came before them. There’s not many players that wouldn’t be stretched and pleasantly challenged by what Page/Plant/Bonham/Jones or Kurt Cobain wrought, and even heavy duty cats like Bustle – Marco Benevento (keys), Joe Russo (drums), Scott Metzger (guitar) and Dave Dreiwitz (bass) – and Guitarmageddon – Tea Leaf‘s Josh Clark (guitar, vocals), Sean Leahy (guitar, vocals), Steve Adams (bass, vocals), Dan Lebowitz (guitar, vocals) and Brad Kopp (drums) – were no exception. What worked well for both acts was a mixture of healthy respect and enough confidence to draw their own lines. This sway between orthodoxy and rebellion went on all night, and largely fueled a delicious tension in the music, leaving listeners wondering when and where they’d drop out of familiar steps.

While billed as the opener, Guitarmageddon carved themselves a co-headlining worthy performance using Nirvana’s catalog as a springboard. Hearing three guitarists chop away at these songs made me acutely aware of what a stunning guitarist Kurt was. Together, Lebo, Clark and Leahy were able to weave intricacies into Cobain’s stun gun, Neil-esque lines, and it was the mixture of cumulative power and slight edge decoration that kept one attentive to every move. Leahy and Clark stuck close to the rawness of Cobain’s playing and singing both, nailing the emotional clatter of his six-string work and the gravely charms of his ever-serrated singing. Each had their moments inside his tremendous lyrics, Leahy oozing sleazy, lackadaisical charm on the invitation in “Aneurysm” to “come on over and shoot the shit,” while Clark reached Cobain’s melodic roar on “Heart-Shaped Box” as he let loose, “Hey! Wait! I’ve got a new complaint.” There’s so many landmines for a vocalist to blow themselves up with inside Nirvana’s stanzas that one had to lean back and marvel at how everyone who took the mic in Guitarmageddon found their place so well.

Dreiwitz & Metzger :: 11.29
Bustle – San Francisco
The rhythm team of Kopp and Adams really put their backs into it, nailing the originals’ natural low-end punkishness and then working some very chop-tastic touches into that framework. Adams seemed to channel Krist Novoselic’s shoulder shrugging heaviness, clearly feeling his rock star bones amidst all the guitar hail. Seems like Adams can play bass in almost any setting, like some modern age Muscle Shoals pro playing with Aretha on Tuesday, hippy psych boys from NYC on Wednesday and a jazz session with Herbie Mann on Thursday – and nailing each like it was his only day job.

The most distinct difference from Nirvana’s originals was Lebowitz, who unearthed odd, cool but utterly unexpected new places within songs many of us had spent long hours snuggling up to. The jazzy bits were the most peculiar but once you adjusted they worked just fine. Perhaps best was the dark blues undercurrent Lebo prodded from Leahy and Clark on “All Apologies.” It’s a gift to hear interesting interpretations of beloved material, and Guitarmageddon surely managed that. It’s not the first time the band has set aside their FM rock sweep to focus on a single artist (an all Clapton set from August 2007 remains a fan fave), and one hopes this project continues to gel and explore so fearlessly.

A similar gift was offered by the (mostly) instrumental Zeppelin tribute from Bustle In Your Hedgerow. Outside of a few well picked lines sung as a tease, mainly by Dreiwitz, this occasional band holds Led Zeppelin up to a different light, exploring the melodies in the vocal lines, overturning breaks to see what lays on the other side and basically enjoying the possibilities inside a catalog full of crowd firing pleasure buttons. While there’s certainly more high tone material to ply one’s craft on, there’s probably no more enjoyable music in a rock performance setting. Zeppelin is Spanish fly to nearly everyone – libido tickling, inhibition squashing, dance inducing. Bustle knows this full well and savors the hubbub that ensues as each opening theme announces another fan favorite, and they are all fan favorites. While Bustle seemed a bit tongue-in-cheek when they formed a few years back, this show solidified my feeling that they take this as seriously as they do any of their other endeavors. By its very nature, this is probably a touch more fun than some other creative outlets but their intentions seem as sincere and focused as their respective work in The Duo, Ween and American Babies.

Joe Russo – Bustle :: 11.29 :: San Francisco
And their enjoyment is contagious. Trying to sit still, to calm groove ready feet or subdue an artless hair toss, was a losing battle during Bustle’s two set assault. Maybe it was the blistering “Immigrant Song” that broke down your final resistance or the eloquent swagger of “What Is And What Should Never Be” that brought you all the way in, but by evening’s end it seemed the room was of one happy mind. Stripped of the vocals, one experiences these songs on a more immediately emotional level, the feel and soul of them rising up unclouded by Plant’s Mordor storming lyrics. Lit up by circus organ flares and B.B. King-like slide runs, Bustle charged with inescapable physicality, where Metzger’s nigh-Vulcan calm was countered by Russo and Benevento’s bobble head wildness. Patting his foot on the rock amidst these extremes was Dreiwitz – the grin waiting for you at any point if you’d lost your own.

What I came away from this show thinking was, “These guys are every bit as good as Zeppelin ever got live.” Shit, I’ll say it: they’re actually more consistent and way less sloppy than almost any Led Zep concert recording I’ve ever encountered. It’s almost apples and oranges, but not quite. Bustle In Your Hedgerow wrestles the same tunes and they aren’t fucked sideways on booze and whatnot when they’re onstage. As a longtime critic of Zep’s live side (outside of the killer early BBC sessions) it’s a real joy to hear this beloved music handled with the care it deserves in a concert hall. While perhaps not a doctrinaire or popular stance, I’d take a few hours with Bustle over old footage of Zep striding the boards anytime. Sure, I’ll go down fighting with anyone about the artistic value of Zep’s studio work, but not everything translates well live and it’s a treat to have Bustle’s Babel fish interpretation so we can appreciate this music in visceral, real time terms.

Continue reading for more pics of Bustle In Your Hedgerow in San Francisco…

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