Living in Europe instilled a few things in Adam Roach that would become critical in the formation of his band, Beso: a renewed passion for gypsy jazz guitar, and a taste for dirty jokes. He’d been playing in country bands for a while, and always wanted to try his hand at the challenging style of Django Reinhardt, but didn’t give it a real try until he returned to the United States with a friend who would become Beso’s first lead guitarist.
Upon returning stateside, they were armed with two major assets: their original name, Beso Negro—a bit of blue humor disguised in an exotic-sounding Spanish phrase that's since been shortened—and a skill and drive for acoustic guitar playing that could match the energy of any band they played with, be it punk, reggae or rock.
“We always invariably have the highest energy,” said Roach.
Beso play a fiery, passionate style of music indebted heavily to the work of Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli. Danceable jazz beats, face melting nylon-string guitar solos, and bristling emotional lyrics define the band's dynamic sound. Gypsy jazz is usually instrumental, so the inclusion of lyrics was an innovative move that Roach believed would set the band apart from the rest.
With such an unconventional approach, it might seem that Beso worry their music is not commercial enough, not palatable to the lowest common denominator. Roach doesn't lose his head worrying over whether he will be liked, preferring a strong musical connection.
“Whether people like us or not, they get into it,” he said.
It's impossible to deny Beso's talent, as the fierce guitar and rhythm work blends into a surly and intoxicating punch like a shot of vodka. A lot of practice is behind what the audience hears onstage. The musicians have to struggle with their instruments, sharpen their blades before turning them on their listeners.
“It's a very demanding style of music,” said Roach. “If you don't play it every day, it'll kick your ass.”
Beso's take-no-prisoners approach is apparent in their lyrics as well: spicy, in your-face, often sung in Spanish, lingering on the tongue like a red pepper. They deal often with themes of anger, cultural clashes, and romance. Roach considers it at times to be a kind of anger management.
“When I'm pissed off, I like to deal with it creatively,” said Roach. “Rather than buying a gun.”
Beso's full-length album, Burn It Down, isn't all piss and vinegar, at times revealing moments of tenderness and beauty. Adventurous, intimate, and darkly humorous, the album shines light on the spectrum of emotion present in the band's sound.
Guitar World listed Beso as “Best Gypsy Guitar” after seeing the band perform at SXSW in 2012. They will play as a part of Outside Lands for the fourth year in a row. Then they'll hit the road, touring nationally through the booking group Mongrel, who arrange tours for names such as Devil Makes Three and Brothers Comatose.
Roach is eager to return to Reno. He's had experience living here while working as a tattoo artist at Body Graphic, and enjoys all the sultry adventures only this town can offer.
“I'm sure you wouldn't want to print most of them,” he said with a laugh.
In the midst of all the performing through an exhausting tour and festival schedule, Beso are hard at work on their second record.