Bastard out of Reno
The Scurvy Bastards get crowds square dancing and slam dancing with tunes from their new CD Battle Born
For 45 minutes, amid the songs and antic stylings of the Vitriolics, the crowd at the Zephyr Lounge had been politely, if not blithely, unaware of the music. Aside from a few friends and fans, no one interrupted their conversations, let alone put down their drinks, to applaud. But playing music in Reno, especially at a 21-and-over club, means learning to live with indifference. Most bands are happy to have fans show up. And if the crowd applauds or dances—that’s a bonus.
Which was why what happened next was so surprising.
When the Scurvy Bastards crammed onto the small stage and launched into their first song, the Zephyr crowd, for the first time all night, stopped its usual routine of conversation and consumption and turned its eyes toward the stage. What they saw was a band exploding like cannons.
By the fifth song, the crowd was caught in the riptide. They were jumping and clapping, shouting and twisting, square dancing and slam dancing. When the show ended an hour later, both the band and the audience were exhausted.
It’s hard to recall another Reno band that has had this effect on audiences. The Mudsharks sometimes did it with their frat boy ska. Maybe the Atomiks with their whiskey baptisms. And when their lead singer’s decadent narcissism didn’t get in the way, perhaps even Phat Couch. But those bands didn’t consistently energize crowds the way Scurvy does.
“When we played our first Burning Man show, we had maybe two people who knew who we were,” drummer Darren Barnes said. “But by the time we finished the first song, there was one row of people going nuts. By the fourth song there were five rows. And by the end of the set, the whole place was literally packed with people swaying back and forth.”
At the Zephyr, some people said that when the Scurvy Bastards performed it was hard not to think of The Pogues. After all, both perform traditional Irish ballads with a punk ferocity. Both feature lyrics with strong narratives and slanted characters. But where The Pogues are filled with Joycean excess, Scurvy cuts closer to the bone, sounding more like Tom Waits than Shane McGowan.
Battle Born, the band’s new CD, is a mixture of both styles. From the Irish traditional “Jar of Porter” to the harrowing “Train Robbers,” the album is filled with songs that are as savage as they are celebratory. One song, “Old Man Crow,” is about a man with “jumper cable jaws, eyes as black as coal,” and a nasty habit of tying trespassers to a flagpole and lighting them on fire.
Lead singer Brooke Walker said the lyrics were influenced by a visit to a friend’s grandfather in Schurz, Nevada.
“The grandfather and this 400-pound sweaty dude called Uncle Danny lived out in this old-ass house that stunk of fish,” Walker said. “And there was this crazy guy with a shotgun and a truck who chased us. Actually, that turned out to be a joke that the guys from Schurz played on city boys.”
According to Barnes, the savage and darkly comic song signals a trend the band plans to continue.
“Half of Battle Born is part of the first wave of our band’s music, kind of Dubliners-influenced stuff," Barnes said. "But the other half, like ‘Old Man Crow,' is very similar to what we’re currently doing and what you’ll see when we put out our next CD."