We arrived at the Black Buzzard on Friday night excited to hear some new tunes by the Denver band, Tokyo Rodeo. My friend Mike Rose came along to lend his artistic eye and capture the evening’s performance on film, while I listened and took notes.
Tokyo Rodeo consists of Corrine Williams, Jason Wheeler, Eric Slater, and Kurt Moore. The guys started making music a few years ago, after Eric sent Kurt a tape of his recordings. Kurt said, “You’ve got something” and they started working together, along with Jason. About a year later they added Corrine’s vocals after she told them “I wanna be part of this.”
We sat together downstairs in the new venue and asked about Denver’s music scene. “Your scene is what you make of it,” Eric explained. I conferred. For that is why we create, that’s the point. Make the most of what you have where you are.
One of the funniest questions a person can ask a band is “How would you describe your music?” And the answers from Tokyo Rodeo were fun to hear: “Sleaze rock. Funk. Blues. Shit kicker music. Rock for slam poets.” Corrine said, “If you don’t like it, you can leave. We’ll still get our five bucks.” I admired that immensely. A large part of creating music is sharing, but it’s important to do it without having too much concern about the critics. They’ll always be out there. Confidence is key, and Tokyo Rodeo gets that while still being humble.
They began sound checks, a little Beatles played on the speakers, and folks started trickling in. The audience consisted of a lot of flannel, punk rockers with patches, and black clothes.
The music started with a bang, as it often does. What a fabulous rendition of “Ain’t No Grave,” the old Virginia song. While they sang, I thought to myself, “Ain’t no grave, literally nothing can hold them down.” You can feel it, that they’ve all seen a lot in life, good times and bad, and have no plans to stop singing, or drumming, or playing, or dancing. “Everyone’s grown so much,” Corrine shared. Perhaps that’s why they sound so good.
I’ve never seen a band have such freedom, chaos, open, resilient sounds come back to complete precision. Their form and tight-knit music had a military-like discipline. I was indubitably impressed. They swayed the pendulum of songs back and forth from staccato, division, full, and big, then countered the loud sounds with vacant space between each song. It was very balanced, which seems difficult to do for shit kicker music. I especially felt this way during the song Darby Crash.
Their second song, appropriately titled “Second Skin” had a blues, sultry, sound and the bass and electric guitars had a little rift dance between them. Second Skin is a cover of a song by The Gits, whose lead singer Mia Zapata was murdered in 1993, and is one of Corrine’s heroes.
The song had such a smooth, clean ending. There was no delay between the musicians, just pure cohesion. And it ricocheted across the audience as even punk rockers started two stepping. The drummer was on point. The harmony was on point. The band went full throttle on this song, didn’t hold back at all.
Then, surprisingly, a ballad began. A great band takes you on a solid ride, up, down, and back around to center. High, low, fast, slow. I loved this song, because they sang about having another side, and they clearly showed it in this song, “Weird.” I thought to myself, “can one be both simultaneously heavy and light?”
The next song “Mercy” had Americana rock with a little more freedom than the rock and roll of the 90s. It was reminiscent of John Mellencamp or Tom Petty, but a little tougher and more calloused. A little more steel, a little more machine, and somewhat mean – but also far more open. Hard to find music like that. The band thanked everyone for coming, and we all went our separate ways.
The next day we traveled to the Denver Loft Sessions and took notes while they were filmed. This was a fun experience as it was far more intimate, and there were a lot less distractions. We got to meet the band’s close friends and family as they were in the studio audience. The sound guy, Larry, told the band “This is as much a performance for me as it is for you.”
The studio had a staff of six – three in the control room and three filming. The team had a keen ear for the music and eyes for the visuals. The band had some fun checking the mics and improvised some new songs. As they began the song “Sin,” the guys quipped “if you’re a former Catholic, you should know the words to this one.” I chuckled at this. As they played, I loved watching the drum shake and quiver as the sumo wrestler on it looked like he was about to wrestle and come alive.
I asked Eric the meaning behind their name, Tokyo Rodeo, and he explained it perfectly. “I was drunk and it rhymed. Naming bands is tough. We sound a little country with this name, but not too much.” His daughter was in the audience, and you could see the glitter in her eyes and how she looks up to the band and her dad. If there’s a band out there that can have Tokyo and Rodeos come together, a perfect blend of chaos and precision, then these musicians nailed it. I asked my friend Mike Rose what he thought of them. He said, “they’re just all love, no ego, no pomp and circumstance, they just love music.” I smiled and thought, I just made a bunch of new friends. Thanks, y’all see ya later, maybe at the rodeo in Tokyo? 😉
[all photo and video attribution belong to Mike Rose of R.E.D. Motion Entertainment.]