Few bands merit having the wall of talent that is Phoenix's Haymarket Squares open for them at Crescent Ballroom. But Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band is one that did when they brought their twangy, country, bluesy sound through downtown Phoenix Sunday night.
"The Rev," Breezy Peyton, and Ben "Big Bird" Russell played a 75-minute set and clearly enjoyed every minute of it. "We loved it. We love this town. This was a lot of fun. I love this venue -- Phoenix is lucky to have a venue this good, and we're lucky to come here, and it was just awesome," Reverend Peyton said after signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. "It's the people -- that's what makes a show better for us. If the crowd is awesome, that makes the show awesome for us."
It also does not hurt to have The Haymarket Squares opening at a venue less than a mile from where most of them live, in a community that they live and work in, on a night where they sounded particularly spectacular.
"I had a fucking awesome time. Everybody was into it. We were playing our asses off, the crowd kept growing, and we kept playing," said Squares mandolin, accordion, and keyboardist Mark Sunman.
It was also a somewhat special set for Squares drummer Aaron Hjalmarson, who played his first show at Crescent Ballroom since turning 21 on Halloween. "I had a blast playing it," he said.
The Squares played a stellar set in a venue that really makes their five-piece acoustic "punkgrass" sound monstrous. Some of the highlights were their rendition of Pink Floyd's "Hey You," their ode to drunken nights, "Let's Get Fucked Up," and -- for Reverend Peyton's crowd, especially -- their cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues."
Perhaps their strongest song of all was the more politically charged "Let's Start a Riot," which really sounded spectacular. All the song's influences in punk, folk, and especially jazz shined through amazingly on Crescent's sound system.
And before calling it a show, the Squares gave the crowd their customary "surprise" and got down into the audience to play a short unplugged set. They played "Honey Dip" and "Light" before calling it a night and allowing The Reverend to take his turn on stage.
With a name like Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band one imagines a lot of members, but the Brown County, Indiana, group is able to produce its huge sound with just Reverend Peyton on guitar and lead vocals, his wife "Washboard" Breezy Peyton on the washboard and auxiliary percussion, and "Big" Bird on the drums.
Though none of the instruments used by the band may seem particularly interesting, the way in which each musicians plays them is. Reverend Peyton not only plays a slew of different guitars -- his prized paper cigar box four-string, a rusted steel national guitar, and a Gibson wooden resonator among others -- he also finger-picks leads while playing the bass lines of his band's songs with his thumb.
Breezy had a novel setup of her own for her washboard, with a microphone attached to it as well as a hand drum, and she used Under Armour golf gloves with thimbles sewn onto the fingers to play her instrument. Toward the end of the set, she was banging her hand drum and tambourine playfully on the heads of audience members.
Russell plays a rather run-of-the-mill four-piece drum set; what make him stand out is his use of a five-gallon bucket to really drive home that dirty early blues and roots sound. (The band has bragged of being the only rock band with a bucket endorsement.)
Reverend Peyton played a long set full of hits that had some of the crowd moving and shaking like they caught the holy ghost from his performance. "Lets take 'em to church," said "The Rev," and the band went into the gospel standard "Glory Hallelujah," from their 2007 release The Gospel Album.
They hit on their 2008 album The Whole Fam Damily for "Mama's Fried Potatoes," as well as 2010's The Wages for "Clap Your Hands." But for much of the set they stuck to their August 2012 release Between the Ditches, with songs like "Devils Look Like Angels," "Something for Nothing," and "Big Blue Chevy '72," among others.
"We open for all kinds of crazy bands," guitarist "Mustache" Mark Allred said, "but this is one of the bands that, when I first started playing slide guitar, I was like, 'Wow.' I got turned on to them about six months after I started playing and ever since then I've been a fan. So its kind of cool to be a fan of the band you're opening for."
Almost as entertaining as the music were "The Rev's" interactions with the crowd. He relayed stories from the road, such as seeing a church-burning the day before the show, as well as stopping momentarily to give a brief lesson in finger-picking.
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The Big Damn Band finished the night with "Two Bottles of Wine" off of The Wages in an encore set which saw "Washboard" Breezy set her washboard on fire while playing it, and "The Rev" belting out some major guitar solos with his guitar behind his head.