“It’s like Where’s Waldo up here,” joked Liz Beebe of Dustbowl Revival, as all eight band members found a spot on Cafe Nine’s small stage. And just as she played more instruments than the stage seemed to have room for — Beebe handled vocals, washboard, and ukulele — her band drew inspiration from more American genres than you could count.
Dustbowl Revival was at Cafe Nine to kick off its first ever East Coast tour last Wednesday. Hailing from Venice, Ca., the band likes to “twist up different types of Americana” as front man Z. Lupetin said. The band’s repertoire is a musical encyclopedia of American cultural history, only without the dust. You can hear anything from country to gospel in the group’s energetic takes on our nation’s musical past, and be moved to dance instead of yawn.
At every single show I have attended at Cafe Nine the band steps foot into the crowd. Not even the openers seem to feel restrained. Maybe they sense all the musicians floating around the place. Dustbowl Revival was no exception, and they certainly got audience participation right without making us feel like we were square dancing. When Lupetin howled “Drop the bucket!” we screamed “Yeah! Yeah!” Then we did that bit where we all mimed a lampshade over our heads, which Lupetin circled back to whenever he could.
Lupetin — who has a penchant for making funny faces on stage — was one of nine final applicants considered one year for the Yale School of Drama’s playwriting program. He recalled how the drama school flew him in. “Am I going to live in New Haven?” Lupetin remembered asking himself. “I could live in this rare books library.” We should all be grateful that both Yale and Lupetin decided he should stick with music.
Later on trombonist Ulf Bjorlin engaged in a musical duel with violinist Connor Vance, until Miss Beebe broke it up with more of her soulful crooning. The band wrapped up with a more familiar take on Americana, their own flawless Tom Petty cover, before swarming into the crowd and leading us in an impromptu second line about the place.
Hartford’s Wise Old Moon, which opened for Dustbowl, made no pretense of sounding like gospel or Southern folk. Their lyrics may be twang free, but there is plenty of drawl to be heard from the guitarist’s rathskeller, or electric dulcimer.
“I just had a baby yesterday,” claimed the front man. “His name is Album.” The band is not just a bunch of Connecticut Yankees in cowboy boots; their sound stakes its own claim in the American tradition, which has been around since the thirteen colonies took form and continues alive and well on Crown Street.