Thursday, April 24, 2008

Yo Ho Ho Me Boy

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Originally published in The Oregonian on April 18, 2008. By Jason Simms.

Unity is a punk cliche. It's more obligatory than anarchy and usually just as meaningless, because for every punk band with a song about unity, there's an accompanying micro-genre to further divide what is already a subculture.

Ben Taylor, who plays the bass mandolin or bouzouki for the local Celtic/pirate punk band Rum Rebellion, says the problem is the proliferation of the idea among punk bands that "you've got to do it differently exactly this way."

But his group has used the fact that they're essentially a micro-genre unto themselves in the Rose City to reach a wider audience. By playing with a variety of bands, Rum Rebellion has acquired an impressively large and diverse following for a local, unsigned band. Often their shows draw more than 100 people ranging from 14-year-olds fresh off their first Warped Tour to older, blue collar rock 'n' roll fans.

This Thursday, Rum Rebellion shares a stage with two hip-hop groups at a benefit for the Sisters of the Road Cafe. "It's an experiment for sure," vocalist Dave Noyes says, "but that's how a populace builds strength, by having common experiences and discovering what is the same about you."

Noyes imagines that hip-hop fans will also identify with Rum Rebellion's central concept: "The idea that you only live once, so live as free as you can. Pirates embrace that, and the Irish embrace that, too."

Onstage, the freest member of the group is Tyler Bennett, who, with closed eyes, plays the Irish whistle with an expression of complete delight. Both his serenity and his 6-foot-6-inch frame are exaggerated when he stands next to Noyes, who is 5-foot-3, and shouting punkified traditionals or traditionalized original anthems in a gravelly tone.

Noyes' voice and drummer Jack Morrison's quickened versions of traditional beats lend the band a roughness and intensity that make their sound more punk than their nearest mainstream equivalents, Flogging Molly, even though, unlike Flogging Molly, the only electric instrument in Rum Rebellion is Sage Howard's bass.

Their original songs, such as "The Rusty Cannonball" and "Raise Yer Glasses," mimic sea chanteys and pub songs, and even "Beer Run," about a lad who gets busted stealing beer from Safeway, seems traditional in its narrative structure. Taylor says the group once tried dressing up to match their lyrical approach but found it "too Disneyland."

But it's a fine line between honesty and masks for Rum Rebellion. Though you'd never know it, Noyes' whiskied vocal tone is entirely affected. "I could sing you an Italian aria or a German art song," says the elementary school music teacher and Portland State music department graduate.

Like Noyes' voice, Rum Rebellion's capacity to unify to deliver their message relies on their ability to make believe but make it believable. "Rambler's Road," the last original on 2006's "Cruisin for a Boozin," begins, "In my head there's a road and I don't know where it goes/ But I know it's the road to adventure." Without those first words, "in my head," Rum Rebellion would merely be gimmicky and delusional, but with that self-awareness, they are inspirational.


This is the original blog post linking to the story before the OregonLive url expired.

Last Friday's Oregonian had a preview of a Rum Rebellion show tonight at Berbati's with a couple of hip hop bands, which is weird because they play Irish/pirate punk. I always find Rum Rebellion shows uplifting because they're really good at instilling a sense of, "We're all fucked so let's get drunk!"

Rum Rebellion at Sisters of the Road benefit, 9 p.m. Thursday, Berbati's Pan, 10 S.W. Third Ave.; $5, all ages; 503-226-2122, www.berbati.com, www.rumrebellion.net

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