‘Mad, muddy country’
Once revved up, Baskery’s smokin’ brand of Swedish Americana kills at the Big Room
Chico, CA 95928
Three Swedish sisters walk into a brewery, one pulls out a banjitar … It sounds like the beginning of a joke but I’m at a loss to find the punch line, because it’s exactly what happened last Thursday, July 15, when Baskery played at the Big Room.
While some foreign interpretations of distinctly American art forms—in this case country-based roots rock—are inadvertently laughable, Baskery is no joke. The Bondesson sisters (eldest Greta on six-stringed banjo, middle sister Stella on bass and youngest Sunniya on guitar) deliver shockingly convincing Americana.
The first half of the show focused on the band’s slower material, mostly from its 2009 debut Fall Among Thieves. A lifetime of playing music together is apparent onstage. Their musicianship is extremely tight and the three-part harmonies nothing short of angelic, but something seemed missing as they worked through songs like “The Brave” and “Harsh.”
The band is self-described as “high-voltage banjo-punk,” but the first hour was more mid-tempo acoustic country just a few blonde hairs more punk than The Dixie Chicks. Not that turning down the tempo and treble was all bad, allowing for the revelation that the lyrics are interesting and well-written, particularly on the two-part “Oscar” saga, a two-perspective retelling of their first show ever at a Scandinavian roadhouse.
The sisters write music together and apart, with Greta’s slower songs sticking to traditional country motifs—drinking and heartache—while Sunniya sang a not-so-sunny song about living in the slums of Stockholm.
“[Americans think] there are polar bears walking down the streets and everything is nice all the time,” she explained, “but it has sketchy parts.”
So they can write songs, but still, I came to watch three Scandinavian chicks get down and dirty. Fortunately, I ultimately wasn’t disappointed.
“Are you guys ready for some mad, muddy country music?” Greta asked as she strapped a harmonica over her neck and her bare feet finally started kicking the bass and snare-drum pedals at her feet.
The kicking didn’t stop for the rest of the show, driving Baskery through at least a half-dozen raucous songs and washing away any saccharine taste left from earlier in the set.
Baskery’s markedly more badass alter-ego is based around the eldest sister’s bluesy fretwork and distorted slide. The six-stringed banjo is too often used as a crutch for guitarists unwilling to learn how to pick a real banjo, but Greta is obviously no second-string rhythm player. She uses the instrument both as it was intended to be used and in ways most people wouldn’t dream of. Deeply rooted in traditional blues but with a penchant for volume and feedback, stylistically she could be Jack White’s Swedish cousin.
Baskery thrilled the Big Room audience through songs like “Haunt You,” “Shame” and “Out-of-Towner,” a knock on Stockholm’s male population built around a single refrain—“I don’t want to go to bed with a man from town.”
Baskery’s showmanship is undeniable, and they charmed the audience like sirens, flirting through banter (“We are waiting to be petted,” Sunniya said at one point. “We may look like cats but we act like dogs.”) and more interestingly musically, with stops, starts and bluesy breakdowns. By the time they closed with a raucous rendition of the traditional “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” à la Muddy Waters, few in the crowd weren’t hooked.
All told, Baskery seems to be walking a tightrope between becoming mediocre mainstream country sweethearts or kick-ass axe-welding valkyrie of the indie Valhalla. Here’s to hoping they realize their sound is right there in the latter, soaking up beer on the floor of some Viking long-hall-turned-juke-joint before some fast-talking asshole from Nashville convinces them otherwise.