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The New Drakes, Steve Poltz and The Rugburns, Loveland

Club Congress, Saturday, Nov. 11

I nearly missed Steve Poltz and the Rugburns (and, alas, did miss Loveland's opening set), but I luckily arrived just in time for their last few songs.

In the mid-'90s The Rugburns were a rootsy, guitar-pop band that played story-songs funny enough to be considered comedy-rock, but written with enough pathos to transcend that ghetto. They parted ways in 1998 when Poltz left to pursue a solo career, so it was exciting for those of us who were fans of the band to hear the old songs played with a rhythm section again--and to find that their goofy charm remains intact. Example: During "Hitchhiker Joe," Poltz and the bassist busted out Kiss-like choreographed rock moves in between "bomp-bomp-bomp-bomp"s, and Poltz took a quiet moment in the song as an opportunity to launch into an impromptu a cappella Joni Mitchell medley. They were clearly having as much fun as anyone in the room.

The three core members of the reunited and renamed New Drakes--singer-pianist-guitarist Tom Stauffer, guitarist and pianist Gene Ruley, and drummer-singer Chris Martin--rounded out the live lineup with bassist Nathan Sabatino (who mixed and mastered the band's new CD, Staircase Wit) and violinist Vicki Brown, and later on with a three-piece horn section. Perhaps in a bid to assure the audience--which was mostly old enough to have seen the band when they were still called The Drakes--that they'd be performing songs both old and new, they launched directly into the crowd-pleasing, boisterous rocker "I Did That," from their 1995 debut album. Despite a crackling speaker in the club, it was clear they meant business. Hell, when your guitarist has to fly in from New Orleans in order to play a gig, you'd better make every song count--which might explain the extended set length, too.

They split the performance about 50-50 between songs from their first two albums and the new one, which sounds distinctly like the Drakes of old, but builds on their sound, fleshing it out with added background vocals, piano, horns and such. They've also become masters of The Build, and there was no better evidence of that than on the new anti-Bush song "Cannonball": At its beginning, with a few guitar strums and Stauffer's sotto voce vocals, it was barely-there spare; other instruments subtly crept in until three-quarters of the way in, when it became full-fledged Bacharach-meets-New Orleans exuberance, confirming that The New Drakes are old masters.

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