"We are the Joneses--back from the grave," proclaimed guitarist and lead vocalist Jeff Drake at the outset of the group's set at Night Moves in Huntington Beach on Friday.
The Orange County-based band, recently reformed after a year's hiatus, was raring to go and turned in a set of high-energy rock songs that came in two tempos: fast and faster.
While most of the quintet's songs take cues from fairly traditional blues forms, early on the Joneses took a turn at country music and banged out a triple-time rendition of the Hank Williams classic "Your Cheatin' Heart." It was souped-up swing, not unlike what Bob Wills might have sounded like after a fistful of amphetamines.
The rest of the set was marked by a no-nonsense instrumental attack that had lead guitarist Mark Wahlsdorf playing like a raging bull as notes flew every which way. The rhythm section, consisting of original member Steve Olson on bass and Mike Sessa on drums, established an uncompromising backbone for the songs, providing a strong base for their three cohorts to hang their slashing guitars on.
There was also a healthy dose of barn-storming boogie-woogie from piano player Greg Kuehn, who was sitting in for the evening and adding a dimension to what otherwise might have been just another high-octane rock 'n' roll set.
Coming across as a fairly well integrated blues-boogie rock outfit, the Joneses aren't quite as heavy as a band like Aerosmith, but they come from the same musical pocket. Indeed, the Joneses seem to have everything it takes to make it in big-time rock 'n' roll, including the ability not to take things too seriously. And if they're not as menacing as some of the big-arena rockers, that is certainly something they can grow into should they so desire.
The Bell Jar proved to be a stark contrast to the evening's headliners. With an emphasis on moody, evocative music, the four-man group opened with the murky "Write Home." Matey Yalch's voice is an open wound, especially when he opts for the wailing sort of cry he used on that song and the slow, hypnotic "Pink Smith."
Where the Joneses went in more for slashing guitars, Bell Jar guitarist Brian Christopher seemed to weave his guitar in and out of the swirling arrangements. And while the Joneses prefer the attack of a blunt instrument that strikes incessantly, the Bell Jar trades on subtleties and textures for its appeal.
In fact, the closest moment of overlap came at the end of the Bell Jar's set, when Christopher turned to some guitar-playing pyrotechnics on the outro of "Unsettled." Otherwise, the band seemed happy to stick with semipsychedelic sounds while Yalch held down the stage in the manner of the Psychedelic Furs' Richard Butler, only slightly more coherently.
As for the evening's openers, Don't Mean Maybe, the three-man band exhibited no fear of constraint, changing keys and tempos as the mood struck. Neither were they shy about borrowing anything that appealed to them musically--be it a set of basic blues changes or a thrashing country time signature.