My right foot is numb. I just spent a half hour watching clips of Rustic Overtones on YouTube. I should have picked a better way to sit before I started watching a couple of old Bill Withers’ clips before seeing what the old internet had for Rustic clips. No really, my right foot is dead center in the midst of pins & needles town. I’d get up, but it’s hard to turn away from this clip of “Hardest Way Possible.”
In all honesty, I don’t think that a day goes by that I don’t listen to at least four minutes of Rustic. It’s either on a CD I made or a clip on YouTube or wherever else their music may be lying around my life. I can’t shake them. Their music defies a specific mood and in turn, lends itself to a variety of avenues when it comes to picking something to listen too, which is something I struggle with daily. I drive a lot. I drive to work, from work and for work. You can only listen to so much sports talk radio and FM radio in Philly consists of only three viable options:
1.WXPN– the World Café Live which is the most reliable, yet also sometimes the most frustrating. They will go for a stretch where they kill it and play Black Joe Lewis and then maybe Bob Marley followed by Jeff Buckley or something like that. But then they blow it and play something far too folky or far too mellow. They’re also listener supported, which is cool, but annoying when it comes to their beg-a-thons.
2.WMMR– the rock station that’s biggest plus side is that it seems to know exactly when all I want to listen to is Metallica. Unfortunately I never want to listen to Creed, making the station far from perfect.
3.Radio 104.5, which is unique in that it is the lone station playing the same random songs most frequently. How does that happen or how does that description even make sense? Simple. Playing Marcy’s Playground is random. But playing Marcy’s Playground three times a week? Annoying. Plus they seem to be the only people in the world excited about the new Bush album.
So the end result is CD’s and going through my case of Travel Tunes and picking something to listen too. Most of these Travel Tunes are played in cycles. For instance, Ghostfunk, which was a new mixtape released by NYC DJ Max Tannone, that is a mash-up of the rapper Ghostface Killah and afro beat, was in heavy rotation this summer. As was the new Beastie Boys album. Then after seeing My Morning Jacket in August, those long-haired rockers cracked the Travel Tunes rotation. Yet the one constant in the ebb and flow of the Travel Tunes is Rustic Overtones.
I was introduced to Rustic Overtones on the beach, while on vacation in Puerto Rico in high school when Whitney, Keller’s cousin, lent me a tape of theirs. There have been only a few times in my life when I have reacted in such a way to a new band- a combination of amazement, excitement, befuddlement and sheer delight-ment. Getting into the Black Keys was another one of those times, as was the first time listening to the Roots. Rustic was playing everything that I wanted to hear. I came back from that trip determined to learn everything I could about this seven-piece band from Gorham. I was obsessed with them. Seeing Gutter at the grocery store or Tony at the drum shop was akin to running into Eddie Van Halen or John Goodman- just too good to be true. They seemed larger than life; real life rock stars who just happened to shop at the same stores I did.
Rustic came with me to college and I attempted to play them for anyone and everyone who would listen. My buddy Phil loved them so much he wanted “Slowly” to be his wedding song. This was right as websites for bands were getting popular, like MySpace in 2004, and I tried my best to follow along. I remember their album Viva Nueva coming out and having Dad pick it up for me at Bull Moose and sending it to me. I have never heard a song like “Combustible” and I don’t think I ever will.
By the time I returned to Portland after college, Rustic had broken up and new bands had formed from the ruins. Paranoid Social Club had seemed to run the furthest with Rustic’s thunder and when I was hanging out at the Big Easy more and more frequently and eventually playing there, I still looked at the former members of Rustic with a subdued reverence. They still seemed bigger than the room to me. Eventually my band was sharing stages with these dudes and to a certain extent, becoming friends with them. When Sidecar recorded our album, the highlight of highlights was Gutter coming in and laying down vocals to two of the tracks. The biggest challenge on that Monday night in September, sitting there and watching him sing the chorus to “Above the Tide,” one of the first good songs we had written, was not at all in regards to what he was doing and whether or not we thought it was a good fit. No. My biggest concern was to muffle the shit-eating grin that was constantly on the precipice of busting out.
Rustic re-united in the spring of 2007, after I left Portland and had moved down to Philadelphia. It was now a lot easier to follow the band. Scouring the Internet, reading reviews of the shows and the album, Light at the End, that followed, and seeing the pictures and videos felt like reading war dispatches. It didn’t feel real. It was a bummer to miss. I was able to catch one of their shows at the Asylum, as well as a show in New York and an acoustic show in Philly. These shows seemed like proof that dreams do come true and while that sounds cheesy, it’s true. Rumors of a Rustic reunion never seemed to go away while I was in Portland and it was fun to think about whether or not it would ever happen. So seeing it finally happen was like that first time you saw Adrian Gonzalez bat for the Red Sox- just too goddamn good to be true.
It’s now five years later and the band is still playing, albeit with a different line-up and a noticeably different sound. I like it. The meat heads and youngsters still longing for another “Combustible” have PSC to turn too in their times of need. Spencer left and more troubling to me, so did Tony. Rustic is less horns now and more keyboards- judging by the half hour of videos I just watched. But they still have that swagger. The duo of Gutter and Jon Roods fascinates me- friends and band mates since high school and the link between Rustic and PSC. Gutter will always be Portland, Maine’s rock star- regardless of who else comes along. What is amazing is the influence Rustic has had on the Portland music scene- a scene that has seemed to struggle for relevance outside of Maine for years. That Rustic sound and those Rustic dudes can be found everywhere- the Lucid, Pete Kilpatrick, WCYY, Sidecar Radio and more. When the dust does settle and Rustic finally does call it today, they deserve more than just a farewell show and a gold watch.
In our lives, our musical taste changes and we go through phases. It happens to everyone. We listen to one thing in high school, another thing in college, something else in our twenties and the cycle continues. Certain bands and songs have resurgences and they come back into our lives like old friends and some bands give us a strong week of our lives before disappearing completely. Yet there are certain bands that don’t fade way, that don’t fall by the wayside and give way to new sounds and new faces.
For me, it will always be Bob Marley, Pearl Jam, Otis Redding and Rustic Overtones. I can’t say why and I can’t say how- I can only say they will. This list will grow, but it will never shrink.
Music that is comforting is the best music there is.
See you tomorrow, Rustic.
photo by Matt Robbins