The Donkeys at Yucca Tap Room, 6/18/11

The Donkeys

Yucca Tap Room
Saturday, June 18

The past few shows I have been to -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Givers -- have wound up being pretty low-key, unassuming affairs. Crowds at either show have been modest at best and each set turned out to be a tight, enjoyable hour or so. I was hardly surprised, then, at the end of last night's set by San Diego rockers The Donkeys when I thought to myself, "That was a nice, tight set and a pretty decent sized crowd."

If this admission does not sound like the most complicated thing in the world, it's not. The Donkeys aren't the most sophisticated band, and that's part of their charm. They play good ol', down home rock music and they do it quite well.

I previewed the show last Thursday with a blurb about one of the band's recent live shows, detailing how The Donkeys are "no gimmicks, no bullshit, just sheer exuberance and great songs." It definitely felt like that last night as the band mentioned more than a few times how excited they are to be back in Arizona at the Yucca Tap Room -- they weren't there to bullshit the crowd with long-winded, tongue-in-cheek stories about some experience on the road. Hell no -- they were there to entertain the crowd, and entertain the crowd is what they did.

Kicking off their set with the sitar-heavy "West Coast Raga," The Donkeys opened in a way I have yet to see in all my time attending shows -- with a sitar. That uniqueness carried over into their set as three different people in the band -- keyboardist Anthony Luken, drummer Sam Sprague or guitarist/bassist Tim DeNardo -- held down vocals at any point last night. It's something rather remarkable to watch a band where more than one person has lead vocal duties; The Donkeys exemplify this uniqueness. It's that same uniqueness that sets the band above some of their contemporaries, helping propel their music into a rarified air that others can only hope to one day join. The fact that Tim DeNardo switched between a six-string and a bass and guitarist Jessie Gulati used a slide on select few songs only added to the fun.

There was some occasional banter from the band -- Sprague and Luken, especially -- but it was all in reference to being in Arizona. Who doesn't love it when a band has nothing but fun, cheeky things to say about your hometown? The Donkeys were genuinely excited to be in Tempe last night, and the crowd was more than pleased to have them in their city. Had this show not been pointed out to me in the first place, I would have (regretfully) not witnessed a solid, hard-working band like The Donkeys play a tight, cohesive set. Thankfully for me -- and the other people in the crowd last night -- The Donkeys provided an effortlessly enjoyable set. It's the small things like that which turn an average Saturday night into one that those in attendance won't soon forget.

West Coast Raga
Nice Train
Ceiling Tan
Born With Stripes
Come On Virginia
Downtown Jenny

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: The Donkeys at Yucca Tap Room

Personal Bias: The band's publicist is the one who got me to go to the show. While he's not the most unbiased party involving The Donkeys, I trusted his word and he turned out to be correct in predicting that I'd enjoy seeing the band.

The Crowd: A young mix of hipsters with more punk-minded individuals (there was a mohawk or two in the crowd), with the occasional Yucca patron just hoping to catch a great set.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Budweiser tastes the best in Arizona," from drummer Sam Sprague. Okay, so that's not really the crowd, but you get the pont.

Random Notebook Dump: 7th time in PHX. Keyboardist stool spinning. This one's for the AZ ladies.

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Michael Lopez