The Donkeys, Yucca Tap Room, 5/14/12

The Donkeys Yucca Tap Room Monday, May 14, 2012

It's hard to tell your friends "I'm going to the Donkeys show" with a straight face. No, not some perverted freakshow in Mexico. I mean the psychedelic San Diegan blues rockers The Donkeys, who tore the Yucca Tap Room apart with their '60s-inspired pop and '70s-era jams, a blend that's earned praise from indie contemporaries like The Mountain Goats and The Hold Steady.

The Donkeys treated the bar and lounge like they were regulars, which is pretty close to the truth -- this is hardly their first rodeo in Tempe. Lead guitarist Tim DeNardo described this town as a "home away from home," mentioning the many friends who've let them crash on their floor or otherwise helped them on their odysseys through Arizona. Tempe was their first stop on a very short, very packed tour toward the Atlantic, including visits in New Orleans, Brooklyn, and Chicago.

"It's a big drive," DeNardo says. "Our label told us, 'If you're going to El Paso, we can get you to the East Coast.' And we were like, well, we can. But do we want to?"

It's certainly a ton of driving and playing, with 16 shows before May ends. The Donkeys will top off their tour by participating in the Huichica Music Festival in Sonoma, California. Hopefully, the foursome will maintain the energy they let loose in Tempe.

Many of the songs played were lifted from their 2011 LP Born With Stripes, such as "Bloodhound" and "Kaleidoscope." The night had a romantic air as they sang "I Like The Way You Walk," repeating the line "I love you with all my heart," to a crowd of eager and receptive dancers. The Donkeys had a special way of entrancing their spectators, mixing the strung-out sounds of Hawkwind with elements of The Grateful Dead, The Eagles, and The Byrds.

They threw in a lot of new material, too, which should have fans excited -- after this short tour the band plans to head into the studio.

"The best time to record is after a tour," DeNardo grins. "We all write, so we'll all come with something. I love that we keep it fresh in a lot of ways. It's hard to pigeonhole us because we're constantly changing. I never know what to expect."

A small venue with a small set doesn't usually allow for an encore, but The Donkeys made up for that with their performance of the titular "Born With Stripes." Their last song expounded on their energy without reservation, the band giving it everything they had. The crowd seemed sent into a spiral, filled with enthusiasm for the quartet.

All this on a Monday night? It didn't even seem strange. It just seemed like seeing old friends again, and like the convincing eras of music The Donkeys proudly borrow from, it seemed timeless.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: The Donkeys at Yucca Tap Room.

Personal Bias: The sitar didn't make an appearance, which disappointed me, but when talking to guitarist Jessie Gulati, I learned that he's professionally trained from India and purchased his instrument from the same store George Harrison grabbed his sitar.

The Crowd: Plenty of drunks who forgot the day of the week and a few stoner poppies who danced the night away.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Hey, man, do you still have a place to crash? I have so many mushrooms..."

Disclosure: New Times music editor Jason Woodbury DJed sets.

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Troy Farah is an independent journalist and documentary field producer. He has worked with VICE, Fusion, LA Weekly, Golf Digest, BNN, Tucson Weekly, and Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Troy Farah