Ninety seconds in, a patron threw up the rock ‘n roll devil horns. But is it enough to rock?
Kevin McKeown and Eric Owen’s Black Pistol Fire is a Toronto-by-way-of-Austin duo that makes noise in the style of Black Keys and White Stripes. At their best, guitarist and singer McKeown can howl like Jack White. There are clap-along intros and “whoa-oh” parts that travel well.
It’s big business. “Suffocation Blues” boasts more than 18 million Spotify plays and is noisy and pointed enough for local venues like Swan Dive but with the pop sensibilities of a slow-motion hype video. With five 2019 singles floating online and their sixth record apparently imminent, it’s clear the band is less interested in warping its two-tone formula and instead, focused on signal-boosting the message via radio-ready songwriting. You can listen to all five records and hear cranky, grinding rock throughout—you’ll wonder where 2012’s “Big Bear ‘59” ends and where 2017’s “Deadbeat Graffiti” begins.
Friday afternoon at the Miller Lite stage, a shirtless Owens pummeled his red Yamaha drum kit like a lifer—flowing and frizzy brown hair filled the feedback from McKeown’s Aqua-green Gibson SG like pepper on an omelet.
Some bands like to tell you they “rock” as a lead-off descriptor, and that’s code for bands that enjoy reveling in bygone, stripped-down aesthetics. But this rock comes with all the punch of a poolside Bluetooth speaker. At least Arctic Monkeys ripped off Josh Homme memorably on 2013’s “AM.” And indeed they inspired “hey!” chants during bridges and spirited affirmations from grey-beards who lived the ‘80s.
“Lost Cause” was a cool-down lap around the block with danceable disco pace. There was a silky cover of Childish Gambino’s “Red Bone.”
During “Speak of the Devil,” McKeown wailed in the photo pit and enjoyed some scattered “woos” for his effort from fans.
“This band was born right here,” McKeown told onlookers in an apparently tacked-on-top southern drawl. (To be fair, lots of white guys play fast ‘n loose with inflections when they’re riffin’ onstage.)
Ultimately, if we want to hang onto that self-designated “Live Music Capital” bumper sticker, we’ll have to demand weirder and more interesting interpretations of riff rock. But Black Pistol Fire, to its high praise, understands that ignoring pop movements is a serious self-own.
Set-closer “Bully” reveled in drum pad cues and bravely punted on the retro facade.
On “Well Wasted,” area rap duo Blackillac joined the band and shuffled the deck with pace and charisma. Rappers Phranchyze and Zeale, long-known for their freestyle battle acumens and whom you may recognize as former hype men during Texas sporting events, snapped in matching black tank tops and proudly shouted out 78745. (While I had no idea that they’d be here, I am in a fantasy football league with Phranchyze and have known him since elementary school. Terrific dude, and now I feel bad about being tepid about his friends’ band, which he’s toured with. But c’mon these guys were trotting our a frickin’ “Sympathy For the Devil” cover.)
The Blackillac duet was a set highlight, energizing and brash though less warped and richly satisfying as Bun B’s duet with indie rock band Parquet Courts—if we’re grading on a Texas genre mashup curve.
But the music rocks, despite its lack of scale and place. And if Black Pistol Fire proves to be Fuzzbubble to Blackillac’s Puff Daddy, well, maybe they’ll get booked next year too.