Dear and the Headlights
Review and Photo by: Joseph Hayes

It’s no secret that a countrified resurgence in Indie music has been in vogue for some time now. Don a vintage western, invest in an old hollow body guitar and stock up on obscure Will Oldham records and you’re halfway there. But, only at the risk of your own talent and intentions. Thankfully, Friday’s bill at the Bottom put just enough of a distinctive spin on the twenty-first century Indie rock rodeo.

Unfortunately, I was unable to catch much of AB and the Sea, who transitionally hail from Wisconsin and San Francisco. I thought their online material showed a nice resemblance to the earlier work of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, veering more towards the delicate indie pop side of the road, and farther from the farm hop of the proceeding bands this evening.

Friday’s second act was fresh-faced Big Light from San Francisco. As they belted out their marquee tune “Hard Knocks,” it was impossible not to admire its transparent homage to Wilco’s Being There / Summerteeth era. If yer gonna go down that road I suppose, you best do it right, and they did a pretty good job on this particular number.

While the boys were clearly elated to be a part of the festivities, and ahem, having their parents in the audience didn’t hurt, they certainly have the talent to outrun their heartthrob tag and more importantly, a good enough appreciation of vintage gear and toneage to make their keys player ditch his hockey arena synth for a creamy Rhodes or a crusty Wurly.

Phoenix-based Kinch and Dear and the Headlights followed suit with their own breed of twangy pop, but with slightly harder hitting rhythm sections, mixing in well-crafted, simmering ballads which slowly erupted by song’s end. Each band noticeably raised the bar as far as performance and collective musicianship were concerned.

While the crowd was heavily anticipating the headliner, Kinch seemed to win them over by the end of their set by laying everything they had on the stage in the most sincere and dorky manner possible. It’s refreshing to see a band on tour who visibly eschew the trappings of faux rock star egomania. And spearheading the charm is Andrew Junker, alternating between guitar and piano, looking like the lovechild of Harry Potter and Seth Rogen, and possessing enough charisma to conceivably score Kinch a label deal following their SXSW showcase in few weeks.

Nearly thirty seconds into Dear and the Headlights’ set, the crowd was already pasted to the stage hanging on every sweaty, yearning lyric from front man troubadour, Ian Metzger. Apparently, he called in sick to the preceding night’s show in Modesto, but you would have never known it by the way he belted out tune after tune like a palatable Eddie Vedder crossed with a macho Conor Oberest, over Spoon-inspired romps delivered by his seasoned band.

Clearly, the heartland has made some serious headway into the desert.