The historic Whisky A Go Go has been at the center of the Sunset Strip music scene for years and has seen acts from all corners of the world performing every genre under the sun. Last Thursday night, Hectic Hobo added their name to the list of artists, bringing a western flair to the venue with a sound drawing from American folk music and bluegrass with a dash of blues thrown in, setting themselves apart from most of the acts that have played the Whisky’s hallowed stage.
The Utah-based, seven-person folk band headlined the night for the culmination of their “Westward Ho!” tour. Each band member was dressed to the nines as they took to the stage where an American flag was draped over the amp and cardboard signs were displayed, truly embodying the “hobo” lifestyle.
Frontman Hasen Pfeffer spoke to LA Music Blog after the show and explained the origins of the band’s name. “Our name reflects the kind of music we play. Our songs are rooted in old-time storytelling/protest folk music in the vein of Woody Guthrie, a self-appointed hobo that rode the rails with his guitar, bringing music to the working class,” Pfeffer said. “Hectic has the added rock ‘n roll aspect with the electric guitar, speed saloon piano, and general high energy of the band.”
From the lively opener “Lost Our Legs,” during which Pfeffer used a megaphone to distort his vocals, Hectic Hobo delivered rousing gypsy rock as promised. Each song was highlighted by Nicholas Newberry’s accordion, and violinist Sam Osimitz gave the tracks a delightful country tinge. Pfeffer fit the bill of a traveling vagabond, commanding the stage with the presence and confidence of a seasoned showman.
The large group of musicians utilized their numbers with powerful gang vocals, particularly in songs like “Wally, Buster, Sean and Me” and “Drive Me To Drinking.” When Pfeffer sang, “Will she drive me to drinking?” his band mates cheekily responded, “Yes, she will!” After the energetic gang vocals, however, the band effortlessly switched gears and Osmitz performed a beautiful violin solo that led the band into a sauntering, organ-infused tune.
The night featured piano slides a plenty by Eric Peatross, and songs frequently ventured into jam session territory. Drummer Todd Johnson was an exceptional talent, remaining steadfast through rhythm changes and genre switches, driving each song deeper south. Hectic Hobo demonstrated their diverse range of influences, or as Pfeffer explained, “I think of [Hectic Hobo] as a steaming bread loaf with ingredients like Gogol Bordello, Marty Robbins, Modest Mouse, Johnny Cash…pirates, prairies, sheriffs, outlaws, and whiskey. We can get dark, but we can also get pretty. We do fun and dancy, as well as sad or scary. We’ve carved out our own niche where we celebrate the old-timey, but we also debaucherize it with rock ‘n roll.”
Regardless of genre, as the band played through “Kosovo” and “Scarecrow Jones,” it was clear Hectic Hobo’s music centers on storytelling. The set was infused with a playful energy despite the song content being heavy and heartwarming at times. “[Our songs] tend to be stories of people going through hard times and then snapping or dealing with their predicaments in crazy ways,” Pfeffer said. “I sometimes write from the perspective of the ‘bad guy’… I also write a lot about the underdog, the worker, or the impoverished. Class and caste distinctions, greed and oppression, struggle and despair all play strong roles in my stories.”
For their encore, Hectic Hobo let a few fans onstage to play tambourine and led the other concertgoers in a group sing-along to Dylan’s classic “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” The audience was happy to cheer out during the chorus “Everybody must get stoned!” It was an appropriate ending to a night of western rock and an excellent way to close out the night at the Whisky and end Hectic Hobo’s tour. Here’s hoping this wild band of gypsies finds their way to Los Angeles again soon!
For more information on Hectic Hobo: