Last Night: Hoots and Hellmouth with Po’ Girl at Bend Studio

Rich's newest girl crush: Allison Russell of Po' Girl.
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Hoots and Hellmouth with Po’ Girl March 14, 2008 Bend Studio

Better than: Being in Austin watching their show amidst drunken revelers and secondhand smoke.

In one night, I may have a new favorite band, a girl crush and a man crush. I’m so confused.

The second night of Bend Studio’s Intimate Indie Music Fest with Hoots and Hellmouth and Po’ Girl was magnificent. It wasn’t just the bands that made the night an event, it was also realizing the yoga studio by day should not be counted out as a whimsical music venue. The sound was crisp and clean and practically worth the effort of recording. Bend has the intimate part down pat with dim lights, subtle incense and the whole shoes off thing. A small crowd of maybe 20 didn’t pack the place, but made up for it in applause and appreciation.

And there was lots to appreciate.

Canada’s Po’ Girl, a trio of two chicks and a guy, made me realize how inadequate I really am. For three musicians, they had a heckuva lot of instruments on stage including an accordion, clarinet, acoustic guitars, bass, banjo and something I think is called a gut-bucket bass, which is basically a turned over tub, a string is attached to the center of the tub with a long pole that is plucked for some heavy bassing. My inadequacies came apparent when I saw the band members just changed out their instruments with one another or used what was left on stage for each new song. Minus the clarinet and accordion, everyone played the shit out of all the other instruments. Guitarist Ben Sidelinger made many of their instruments to boot. The songs bordered a bit on early Jewel or many an indie acoustic artist, but the band’s charm and passion could win over many a cold heart rendering obvious comparisons harmless.

I chatted with Allison Russell after the show a bit. She played the clarinet and 84,752 other instruments and then went to work the merch table. We talked about their next stop being SXSW and then just some basic band bio stuff. The girl is sweet. A disabling smile and a personality akin to sunshine have made her my newest girl crush. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have dug Awna Teixeira, the final piece of the troika. Her multi-talents and vocals were just as stunning but on top of that she is funny. Thank you Po’ Girl for some laughable stage banter, an art most bands need to work on.

I was so won over by Po’ Girl that I started to fear Hoots and Hellmouth would disappoint. It’s the pessimist in me. The quartet of three guitarists and an upright bass player started off slow, which didn’t quite fit my impression of them. That was until they busted out song after song of stomping and singing and shouts that kicked so much tantric ass in the yoga studio, I wondered if it will recover. Their brilliance isn’t just in their acoustic instruments or smartly wordy vocals, but in their simple use of what they call the Stomp Board with tambourines attached adding to the beat. Their sound is a sum of a lot of parts including folk, country, roots, rockabilly with oh so slight tinges of rock. iTunes interestingly says their sound “at times it doesn’t seem to know quite what it is,” but thank goodness for that. What they do right is construct complete and complex songs that can either get your toes tapping (“Want on Nothing”) or get your eyes tearing (“Two Hearts, a Snake and a Concubine”). And their rendition of Jackson Browne’s “Cocaine,” perhaps even better than the original, didn’t hurt matters.

I downloaded their album stat and have deemed them my new favorite band. And with probably the best indie beard I’ve seen in a while (sorry, Pat) and a unique take on the Twist with mandolin in hand, band member Rob B. is my newest man crush.

Again, so confused. -- Rich Lopez

Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: None really. I didn’t know anything about either band and purposely didn’t listen to anything. Just wanted to be surprised, but I did like H and H’s name.

Random Detail: The H and H guys all wore these polyester pants that even computer geeks are too cool to wear. Somehow they made it work with cool belts and buckles. I like bands with a little sense of sartorial unity.

By the way: I’m supposed to be checking out the Indie Fest’s third night with AM and Meiko and others. Apparently Meiko is a Perez Hilton favorite.

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