Review: Skip Heller Trio at Hallenbeck’s General Store, 1/13/07

Here’s Skip Heller, a talldarkhandsome guitar alien surveying our weird planet with puzzlement and jovial contempt from the little stage of this fake-olde Valley coffee shop. Minutes earlier, outsider comics were spieling about comix. Now Heller sways forward, swinging his Fender hybrid like he’s gonna stick it in Grendel, teasing out a million gently reverbed riffs and runs of rockabillojazz like it warn’t nothin’.

Squeezed behind a little drum kit squats D.J. Bonebrake (yup, the man from X), his granny specs failing to disguise that eternal look of infant surprise; he skiffles a driving riddim whilst flicking his sticks omnidirectionally for acute cymbal spashes, high-hat shwicks and rim rattles. At the Roland keyboard looms bearded young wiz Newt Johnson, who can recalibrate from Hammondesque soul to fusion spark at the flick of a switch, which is good cuz he’s gotta.

Oh no, you mean this is eclectic music? Well yeah, Heller is the severest of arcanageeks, but he actually makes it all cohere. “All” meaning the ‘billy blast, the Band plaint, the Crescent City bounce, the Appalachian gospel, the country twang, the R&B blurt. If that sounds too trad for Dad, Heller, as composer of most of the material, loads on his own twists: His chords, which often stray far from the usual majors and minors, are stacked in freaky progressions, and he employs godless immigrant scales to ear-twisting effect.

Mainly, it’s just fun. The trio’s hotter than perked java, and flexible enough to sneak in an instant interpolation of the Beatles’ “I’ve Got a Feeling” or X’s “Motel Room in My Bed.” And the godbelch that is Link Wray’s “Rumble”? Simply majestic.

New CD coming; check (Greg Burk)