Soundly kicked

Local country-rockers The Asskickers live up to their handle

SENDIN’ UP THE COUNTRY <br>Bob Howard (foreground) wraps a heavily reverbed voice around a classic country tune, backed by Ska-T (guitar) and John LaPado (pedal steel).

Bob Howard (foreground) wraps a heavily reverbed voice around a classic country tune, backed by Ska-T (guitar) and John LaPado (pedal steel).

Photo by Tom Angel

The Asskickers
Stormy’s Off-Broadway Bar & Grill, Friday, March 23

Tell a friend. Tell a stranger. Go up to the mountaintop and let the word ring throughout the land. There’s a new band in Chico, and it could well ascend to the top of the heap. Only, it isn’t a matter of ruthless ambition. It’s more a question of expertise. That and a keen sense of humor.

The band is called The Asskickers. And it consists of local music veterans John LaPado (Spark ‘N’ Cinder, The John LaPado Band) on pedal steel guitar, Ska-T (Brutilicus Maximus, Lonesome Cowboys) on electric lead guitar and Steve Bragg (Vomit Launch, Repeat Offenders) on drums, plus newcomer Al Wood on bass. And while each of these men knows how to fit his individual sound into a pleasing sonic picture, it is the leader of the band who makes it unique.

He is Bob Howard. And he writes the group’s original material.

Last Friday night, The Asskickers took to the cramped stage at Stormy’s before a good-sized crowd, playing two great sets consisting mostly of Howard’s songs.

Howard introduced the first set with, “This song is about being a redneck in a town full o’ tree-huggers!” And with a riff only slightly similar to “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” the band launched into Howard’s “I Cut Down Trees,” Bragg playing a fast train shuffle on his snare, Wood providing the walking scales, Ska-T plucking a low-register, reverb-drenched solo on the instrumental break, and LaPado brilliantly underpinning everything with his weeping, pedal-steel glissandos.

The thing that strikes you instantly about Howard’s songs is the musicianship; it takes a few lines of Howard’s lyrics before you realize they are wryly tongue-in-cheek. By the first chorus, the fairly full venue was breaking up with laughter.

I’ve written about this before in reviews, but it’s worth repeating here: What allows parody to transcend the trappings of mere juvenile sarcasm is its attention to detail. If this band had only average musicianship and a few pointed, backhanded lyrics, it would be a nice novelty act and little more.

But the fact is that everybody in the group actually loves country music. They all know the correct nuances and phrasings. They create the feel of the genuine article. Theirs is a reverential parody. It demonstrates a kind of self-mocking yet respectful understanding of the conventions of classic country music.

Many of Howard’s songs bore faint resemblances to other chestnuts: A ballad about going to Venice Beach and dropping acid sounded sort of like that old finger-style blues song “That’ll Never Happen No More” (Howard quoted Jim Morrison in the middle—"This is the strangest life I’ve ever known.” Given the subject matter and location, it was appropriate!). Certainly, one of the highlights of the evening was “Cookin’ Chicken,” a song about a transvestite teen who “knows things you never learned in school” and set to a percolating, Waylon Jennings-style rhythm.

During the break, I asked Howard about the much-rumored CD the band is supposedly working on. He told me they were still recording at Sound Source. “We’ve got about five [tracks] finished and about eight more to lay vocals on.”

Asked when he thought it would be released, Howard said, “Could be a couple of weeks, could be a month, could be a year. … I’m just trying to get together the [rubs thumb and fingers together] to finish it.”

Hopefully, it won’t take him quite so long as a year. The Asskickers are a sublimely funny and solid band. Catch ’em sometime. Then tell a friend.