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Published: 2011/12/06
by Reanna Feinberg

The Devil Makes Three, Ashland Armory, Ashland, OR – 11/20

The back drops open. The back, in this case, being a wood plank stage tucked within a rickety, horse-drawn, gypsy trailer draped in colors of longing and deceit. The stage creaks and unravels from an arthritic carcass of mobile wood and textiles. Sheets of fabric unravel. A piano takes the stage… no one plays that instrument, but it’s necessary for the jive. Wonder tonic explodes from the seams and hocks its own ware next to a shelf of hopes and dreams. A blind, crippled man takes one gulp and dances a jig while screaming glorious exultations of the existence of shadows. The show begins!

Being the 21st century, and the venue a large modern armory equipped with walls, a beer garden and technically advanced sound equipment, The Devil Makes Three paints the above scene in music alone.

Frontman, Pete Bernhard on guitar, and Cooper McBean, on guitar and banjo, don appropriate threads, wearing vintage button up vests and short sleeved shirts. If it weren’t for the tattoos sleeving their arms, I’d expect a midget to walk across stage any moment selling cure all elixirs, healing creams and fizzy drinks. They transport us to another era in their act. But the era is distorted and bastardized by the present day inoculations of jive, hip, attitude and swagger infused in their style and play. Pete stands middle stage in a brown, round top hat, curled up at the edges, holding the beat with short, quick strums of his guitar where a drum would take the place in decades to come. Sweet vocal harmonies ride the rails of this beat.

Cooper, in a long, thin, nearly transparent beard, changes the persona of his instruments by playing the guitar in slow dip twangs of bluegrass, and playing the banjo like a rock star instrument.

Lucia Turino, meets Cooper’s musical liberties, on the upright bass. Intricately demolishing its thick strings under her fingers, she sways her full bodied instrument in a firm, forceful grip. Shaking her stringed lady in gyrated pulsations, it barely swings out of its vertical stance while rippling ringlet vibrations of rhythm on all sides.

Starting slow, they play dark stories in American rhythm blues, country with no twang, and a tinge of punk laid on the lip of a jug thumped in the strings of an upright bass. Silly, distinctly paced and mysterious carnival music, plays the soundtrack of a 20’s era traveling act. Bluesy, ragtime, folk ballads trickle through the room; much like the rivulets of water falling from the ceiling in a human-powered tropical rainforest.

The music has flair. It has style. Sweet old-timey jug band stories wreak of modern plagues and downfalls. You have to listen closely to understand exactly what they’re doing. It could seemingly fall into a period piece revisiting the ragtime blues of old, but there are subtle hints of a mosh pit at the door. The unique acoustic sound, differing from any other I’ve witnessed, permeates the vaudeville stage, stretching it to a contorted version of music unfit for the present day, but resembling it as well. The creativity, fun, playfulness and skill inspires movement. It has a waltz type pull that draws limbs long and slow; while other layers leave pools of sweat on bodies under surfing flesh. Haunting and intriguing, slow and spasmodic, these skilled musicians play and toy with a very specific, simple sound—exploring flavors of time and costume in an amalgamation of eras, honored and dipped in a melting batch of strings held over the fire.

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