If he worked the rest of the participants on the Fast Horse Hootenanny as hard as he does himself, the musicians union might want to have a word with Barrett Martin. The former Screaming Trees drummer (with partner Joe Cripps, also of Brave Combo) founded the Fast Horse label as an outlet for his multiple musical personalities — and aired many of them at this traveling minifestival, which kept him onstage, in nonstop action, for the duration of a four-hour show.
Septuagenarian bluesman CeDell Davis gave Martin a bit of a break at evening’s end — not because his oddly metered, sinuously swerving songs required less work, but by virtue of Davis’ commanding presence. Though in a wheelchair, the singer-guitarist is hardly frail: His slide work is fierce and cutting, his voice craggy enough to convey, as one of his best songs puts it, “The Horror of It All.”
While technically not the gig’s headliner, Tuatara certainly seemed to be its biggest draw (although the perf the all-star band turned in here made it difficult to discern why). The instrumental combo’s smooth, smoky tone makes it ideal cocktail party accompaniment, but unremitting stasis all but defies a live audience to refrain from cocktail chatter.
Few songs in Tuatara’s 45-minute set allowed Martin or bassist Peter Buck (lead guitairist for R.E.M.) much room to maneuver, and the slick gloss of horn and organ that dominated the mix, while admittedly pretty, was more decorative than artistic.
Apart from the indie-rock threads, the Wayward Shamans could’ve passed muster at just about any late-’60s love-in. Mixing and matching cultural signifiers and stylistic accessories, the band connected solidly only when Martin, Cripps and vibraphonist-hand percussionist Elizabeth Pupo-Walker asserted themselves.
When the beat keepers pushed hard enough, songs based on, say, Ghanian rhythms actually ended up sailing toward Africa, casting the kind of spell the band’s name would indicate. Otherwise, they remained moored in the shallows of Blood, Sweat and Tears.
Martin morphed into the reincarnation of Keith Moon for his next assignment, which called for him to pound furiously as the Minus Five schooled garage-rock Johnny-come-latelies in what really makes the genre tick. Awash in chunky, ragged-but-right riffs, sparkling organ waves and deceptively simple wordplay, tunes like “Girl I Never Met” and “The Rest of the World” saw front man Scott McCaughey tap into the grin reflex.
Midway through the set, McCaughey and company were joined by John Wesley Harding, who led a rousing sing-along version of Van Morrison’s “And It Stoned Me.”