Chris Shiflett never takes a break. When he’s not out touring the globe with the Foo Fighters (heard of ‘em?), he’s spending time with his other band, Jackson United. When he’s not spending time with JU, he’s devoting his efforts to still another band, Chris Shiflett & the Dead Peasants. The man has an absolutely ravenous appetite for creating music, and we're all really lucky for that hunger.
The Dead Peasants’ debut album was just released this week, and I caught the band’s show at The Hotel Café on Wednesday.
The sound of this band is decidedly different from Jackson United. That band, while still fronted and guitarred by Shiflett, is more punk-rock than the Peasants, whose songs use a pedal steel guitar (played on the album by Greg Leisz), which adds a twangy flavor that thankfully isn’t too country-music ish for my tastes.
My two favorite tracks from the album are Get Along and God Damn, both rock/folk songs led by Shiflett’s guitar work and vocals. I’ve always liked his voice on the Jackson United tracks and now with the Peasants; it’s a bit scruffy and raw sometimes, but it fits the music well.
Each song more or less has a bunch of different instruments being played at the same time, from the pedal steel guitar to the piano/keyboard arrangements by Derek Silverman. God Damn has some of the album’s richest melodies, in particular the lead guitar riff, which plays off the keyboard to create a really pleasant sound.
Overall, the songs on Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants have a certain Tom Petty quality to them; the folksy, bluesy chords and rhythms sound like they could have been created decades ago. That new-but-vintage feel is one of the best qualities of the music.
Burning Lights starts out with some pedal steel that adds flavor to the verse and helps the song sound like what I would expect living on a farm to sound like every day (in my dreams).
Live, these songs sounded even more vibrant; Silverman, Marty Rifkin (playing the pedal steel live), Shiflett, Eric Skodis (drums) and Luke Tierney (bass) played with the efficiency of the skilled, battle-tested musicians they are. I’m continually impressed by Shiflett’s versatility, as he spends Foo Fighter downtime touring and recording music with all these other projects. All these years, I’ve always considered Dave Grohl a tireless rock and roll warrior, lending himself out to all kinds of projects during his main band’s occasional breaks, but Shiflett is right up there as well.
Speaking of the Foo Fighters, it’s not as if Taylor Hawkins and Nate Mendel are slouches themselves; Hawkins just released a new record with his other band, Taylor Hawkins & the Coattail Riders , and he plays occasional gigs in the classic rock cover band Chevy Metal (which is also worth checking out). Mendel, himself, is busy lately touring with Sunny Day Real Estate, his pre-Foo band. So it’s obvious that none of the Foos are content to sit back at home and relax, they’d rather keep making music nonstop. More power to them (and us, as we get to absorb all this goodness).
At Hotel Café, the Peasants threw in a Merle Haggard song and an old tune called Lightbulb (or something like that) which was also really cool, but alas isn’t on the record.
An Atheists Prayer is arguably the most soulful track on the album, with Shiflett singing in a more tender register along with the more relaxed, bluesy chords and percussion. It’s a highlight of the record, for sure, partly because of the slick reggae-ish outro at the very end that ties up the song perfectly.
Baby, Let It Out builds for a few minutes until breaking out into a raucous instrumental break that was great at the show. You can almost sense the jam forming in the verses, with the background guitar packing a bit more of a dark, ominous tone, but it still caught me off guard the first time I heard it.
Overall, the show was fantastic, and I’m probably going back next week for the third week of their residency at Hotel Café.
One of the best things about Foo Fighter-related gigs is the “friends hanging out playing some tunes” vibe. Some members of the crowd are family and close friends, so it almost feels like sitting in on a private gig. Pat Smear was at the show this week, and I’ve seen Nate at previous Shiflett-related gigs, so who knows who will show up next week?
I’d recommend the album to anyone who likes good, soulful rock & roll music that doesn’t sound like those bands who try to copy Bruce Springsteen (which seems to be quite popular these days).
The songs on this album are much more than a prominent guitarists’ “other band”; they stand alone extremely well on their own. In interviews Shiflett has mentioned that this is his main band right now, and it is evident in the passion and precision he used in crafting the songs and channeling that energy into the live show. It’s really great.
These songs also helped me realize that this sound has found its way onto a few Foo Fighters tracks, namely Summer’s End from Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. That song threw me for a loop with its country-inspired, soulful bluesy wail, making it one of my favorite tracks from that record. I’m assuming Chris had something to do with that, as evidenced by the output of The Dead Peasants.
Side note: the band before the Peasants was called Guggenheim Grotto, two musicians out of Ireland who played pristine, hauntingly beautiful acoustic/piano songs that resonated with me deeply. They ended their set with a ukulele rendition of Radiohead’s Creep that was incredible. I highly recommend them as well.
In all, the show at Hotel Café was a great little gig, tucked away at an amazing venue I plan to visit much more frequently from now on.
Chris Shiflett has a great thing here with the Dead Peasants, and I look forward to seeing them again soon.