January 22nd, 2009 5:33 pm | by MARK STOCK Music | Posted In: Columns, Live Cuts, Columns

The Knitters, Dead Rock West at Dante's, Wednesday, Jan. 21

knittersDante's had the feel of Austin, Texas on this night. Beer bottles are being dropped in metronomic fashion, the lights are dim and red, and Cindy Wasserman of Dead Rock West is taking a shot in between songs. After a quick wince, she's back at the mic testifying in her full but fragile way—like a tied up Neko Case. There's salt in the air from the many cluttered bodies, a few long shadows from cowboy hats and I think I can faintly smell leather.

Dead Rock West was without a drummer Wednesday night, thinning down a few tracks where clapping wasn't quiet enough. Percussive pats on the upright base were looped inventively, turning the flickering lounge into a barn house home to nightly hootenannies. Boots began to stomp on the floor and quick-fingered bassist David Carpenter has his muse.

Vocal duets, mandolins and an accordion teamed up for a prairie sound, subject to the occasional punk-induced guitar surge. Frank Drennen could have been Back to the Future's Marty McFly, his hair slicked back and wily guitar in hand, always seconds away from an outburst. It was Americana in Portland, the people's music.

A few hands of video poker later, Los Angeles' the Knitters neatly assembled on stage. Guitarist Dave Allen—who dressed in denim and bandanas—expertly offered a steady train-like rhythmic twang and was all composure. Never missing a beat with nary a change of expression, he was the cool and collected sheriff, calling all the shots.

Exene Cervenka and John Doe forged a lyrical partnership that felt like marriage. Sure, Doe might stumble home after an evening with the gents and a handle of whiskey, and Cervenka might threaten to leave time and time again, but in the end there was pure affection. Such love and tension spilled from their wailings, amplified by the Knitters' thick and runny sound.

There was an essence of Cash in the musky air of Dante's. And it filled me with a sort of nostalgia meets pride gut feeling.

The KnitterSpace
Dead Rock WestSpace

Photo of two beer cans by Mark Stock. He didn't snap any pics at the show, but figured this was appropriate.
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