East Bay indie rockers Desoto Reds are gearing up to play the Baltic Kiss this week for a "John Lennon Memorial Show" on Friday, December 8.
Desoto Reds are not your average indie band. Formed long ago and far away in a time called the 1990s, the band played through the early 2000s, building a solid following and eventually securing an opening slot with notable indie rockers Of Montreal. At one point, the Reds had a song in heavy enough rotation to crack a top 200 list and enjoyed modest success until the band parted ways in 2011.
Reformed during the pandemic, the mature rockers are now enjoying a second wave of success with The Omicron Demo, released earlier this year, and their more recent EP, Cordless Phone, both mixed expertly by guitarist Alex Sterling's 17-year-old-son, AddieSteri.
The Reds have found steady work playing various venues over the last year, bringing their unique sound to local clubs, with Friday's Baltic Kiss show marking their third appearance at the Point Richmond music hotspot.
Desoto Reds are Alex Sterling (guitar/vocals), Jeremiah Johnson (drums), Scott Yowell (lap steel and keyboards), and Dan Lieberman (bass), who come together to produce some truly remarkable music.
In discussions of their musical influences, the band cites the standard Gen X playlist of punk rock heavy hitters such as Fugazi and Minor Threat, with, of course, the obligatory Stones reference all musicians of the generation are compelled to nod to. When listening to their work, one can certainly agree that with the solid rhythm foundation laid down by Johnson and Yowell, the band clearly hails from that particular school of rock. But there's something more to the Desoto's music than a heavy, rocking beat.
The band says about their sound, "We're too rocking to be jangle pop, too melodic to be prog rock, too angular for classic rock, and not young enough to be emo." And while there is truth in this statement, there's also a light, bright, delicate quality to the undeniable catchy music this group produces.
Lyrically, it's easy to make a Beatles reference here and there, and that is undoubtedly accurate, but digging further reveals it's the layers of melodic guitar work between Sterling and the lap steel guitar played by Yowell that makes these songs so memorable and the band sound more reminiscent of XTC than hard rock or punk. Yowell, who also plays keyboards, uses a vintage 1938 Gibson lap steal inherited from his grandfather, an instrument you don't often find meandering through rock music, but it not only works, it's almost impossible to imagine these songs without it.
With song titles like "Impaled on an Icicle" and "Insect World," the compositions are like abstract poetry that draws mental storyboards in the listener's mind, wafting away on a sea of notes and Sterling's McCartney-esque vocals.
I slowly float by like a manatee/
Disturbing some flowers and a bumblebee/
Hummingbirds like jumbo jets are much noisier than spoken words/
In the song "Shetland," Sterling sings, Meet me in a cloudy Northern detective yarn/Call me up about the bodies hung up in barns/ The seaside is craven/This morning saw raven outside, causing the listener to lean in and try to figure out whodunit, while musically, there's a lot going on in this song. The listener might be tempted to be lulled by the folksy chordal progression in the intro, which would be a mistake. Midsong, the rhythm section kicks in, taking the music in a whole other unforeseen direction and, in the process, earning some heavy-hitting credibility for flexibility while demonstrating the unpredictability of the band.
According to Sterling, the band will be headed to the studio in the new year to work on new music."We have a lot of new songs, and we'll be recording the new batch at Wally Sound in January. Mixes are by our teenage whiz kid, AddieSteri," Sterling said.
Check out the Desoto Reds at the Baltic Kiss on Friday, December 8, 2023, from 8 to 11:55 p.m.
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