Saturday, September 27th, 2014 – Reckless Kelly Pumps Up the Crowd at Western Days
With it officially being fall it means it’s time for festival season to kick back into high gear.
Even the city of Lewisville gets in on the action with their annual Western Days Festival (sponsored in part by 99.5 The Wolf), taking place in the heart of historic downtown Lewisville.
All sorts of art and food vendors were set up along the multiple blocks they had blocked off; and there was plenty going on to entertain. Live music was one of the things that occupied some time; and, of course, that would be the thing that got me out here in the first place.
One act I was eager to see was Reckless Kelly.
The Austin-based country/rock band is no stranger to the D/FW area, though I’ve never managed to make it to a show when they’ve been up here. They routinely headline some of the biggest venues in the area, though it would seem it’s easier to get people out to an air-conditioned venue later at night than it is to a (free) show in the great outdoors at six in the evening.
Don’t get me wrong, as there were several dedicated fans ready for them. A few dozen sat in folding chairs, with dozens more standing; and as it got later and the heat from the sun subsided, the number of eyes on them grew substantially.
The quintet made their way on stage as they were being introduced by one of the radio personalities; ripping right into their opener as soon as he had said what he needed to.
Immediately you could feel the massive presence they had in tow as they commanded everyone’s attention; and then they got into what was pretty much a full headline set.
Covers always interest me, mainly because some bands stay as far away from them as possible, while others have no problem with it, and quite enjoy putting their own twists on some classics. Reckless Kelly apparently fits into that latter category, and they opened with a deep cut from Bruce Springsteens’ catalog, “My Love Will Not let You Down”. The mandolin Cody Braun wielded helped in giving the song more of a country vibe, though it definitely retained its rock core; and singer and rhythm guitarist Willy Braun even gave The Boss a run for his money, belting out the song in a gritty, raw tone of voice. “Come on, boys!” he roared as they hit an instrumental break — almost like he was taking a cue from Springsteen’s playbook — as David Abeyta took the spotlight on a killer lead guitar solo.
They knew their time with everyone was short, and never wasted much time this evening; and now, drummer Jay Nazz rolled them right into their next track. “How we doing y’all?!” Willy excitedly asked the crowd, many of whom screamed back at him. “This is an Alejandro Escovedo song for you!” he informed everyone. Nazz held a maraca in one hand and a drumstick in the other, and his drumming on “Castanets” was absolutely phenomenal. He was completely in the zone; and at the break, Willy walked up on the drum riser and stood beside him and jammed for a few moments. The singer then made his way back to the forefront of the stage, hopping atop a monitor. “Come on!” he mouthed as he threw his hand in the air, further pumping up the spectators; before he and Abeyta concluded the song by facing one another as they shredded on their axes.
No one cared in the least that those were covers, because they owned both of them, but now it was time for some original music, and it started with the title track to their 2011 album, “Good Luck & True Love”. Its catchy hooks dug in to everyone, making them enjoy the show all the more, while plenty sung right along with the band, “…Maybe it was just one night of good luck and true love…”. As the guitars and drums fell silent, Joe Miller proceeded to lay down some hefty riffs on the bass, and Willy made sure to point him out, asking everyone to say “hi” to him. The Braun Brothers then got to show off their full vocal capabilities as they co-sung “Lonely All the Time”. Their voices were rich and vibrant, and when layered over one another, well, it resulted in the best thing they had done thus far.
“Here’s one y’all might remember from the old days,” Willy told the crowd. It appeared as if he was about to move on to the song, but then added, “And by old days, I mean, oh, about thirty years ago.” Abeyta now had a twelve-string guitar in his hands, using it as they handled another rock classic, this one coming from Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Their rendition of “Listen to Her Heart” was stellar; and while they kept it pretty spot on, there were some slight tweaks here and there, giving it a bit of an Americana vibe.
The applause rang out while Willy played some riffs on his guitar, getting everyone excited before stopping. They teased everyone for just a bit, again acting as if they were starting the song before quitting. They kept it going the third time around, officially getting the more outlaw country tune “Crazy Eddie’s Last Hurrah” underway, and it was another one the audience thoroughly seemed to enjoy.
An acoustic guitar was brought out to Willy, who then told the onlookers they had a song about the road for them. He was referring to the lead track from the Bulletproof record, “Ragged as the Road”, a song that received some strong cheers as they started it. Upon finishing it, a fan shouted a request at them. “We’ll get to that one,” Willy told the person, politely joking with them by saying, “We know what we’re doing up here.” He mentioned this next one was the latest single from the record they released just one year ago. Willy and Cody again did some co-singing, this time on the melancholy “The Girl I Knew”. “…You come and steal my heart with your wild eyes shining, then you smile as you break it in two. What did you do with the girl I knew?” goes the poignant chorus, and the brothers delivered that emotion in their singing.
Before moving on, Abeyta switched to an acoustic guitar, while Willy grabbed his neck rack and harmonica. Miller and Nazz left the stage to those three for “Wicked, Twisted Road”. It may have been the slowest thing they did this evening, but it also the most powerful. You could tell the lyrics came right from the heart, and Willy appeared to be connecting with it on a deep personal level.
As they neared the end, Miller returned to the stage, grabbing his upright bass for the first time this night, and he began to tune. Nazz got back behind his kit shortly after; and when that song was over, Willy handed the reins over to Cody, who said they had “a little bluegrass” to play. “Wild Western Windblown Band” was the song, and it’s lively pace was the exact opposite from the previous few songs. It reinvigorated everyone, from the band to those watching; and Abeyta got to show off his skills some more on another nice solo.
The lead guitarist then swapped back to an electric guitar, while Willy got a little nostalgic, saying he and Cody were big fans of The Everly Brothers growing up. “We worked this up the other day,” he said in advance of “Bird Dog”. It created a fun atmosphere, and they kept some of those 50’s era vibes intact, while modernizing it some, too. Willy and Cody spent much of the song huddled around the main microphone, with Abeyta throwing in the “bird dog” part and such.
A few times this night Cody had busted out his fiddle, and he brought it out again here, using it for the intro to their next track, while Cody shook a tambourine. Miller started a clap along with the now couple hundred people who were now standing along the street (many of whom were a little further back from the stage, though still glued to the band). Already there was an unmistakable Irish jig sound going, and fans roared when Willy stated they were going to “take it on down to Ireland one time”, doing so with “Seven Nights in Eire”.
“We’ve been playing this song for a long, long time…” Willy mentioned, saying it was originally done by Richard Thompson. “It took a long time for us to learn it, but after doing it a couple thousand times, we feel confident it is the best song on the subject,” he finished. I’d say he’s right about “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” — another song that they have made completely their own — and it fit with the outlaw tones of some of their previous stuff.
Nazz bridged them into the following song; and with everyone back on electric instruments now, they were ready to finish strong, first serving up “Vancouver”. “Here’s a little Joe Ely for you right now,” said Willy. They had just enough spare time left to throw in their take on “My Eyes Got Lucky”, something all the Texas country music fans really went crazy over. Willy then led the charge into the final song of their 71-minute long set, “Nobody’s Girl”, which really seemed to personify these Red Dirt rockers spirit, leading to an awesome finish.
My first experience with Reckless Kelly was far better than I even thought it would be. The showmanship they displayed was off the charts. Best of all, it never wavered; and by the time things were done, they had only grown into an even more powerful force.
It’s the type of performance that can only come after you’ve spent the better part of two decades together, logging a few thousand shows at least, and developing just the right chemistry amongst band mates.
This may have been my first Reckless Kelly show, but it certainly will not be the last.
They’ll be back in North Texas on November 7th at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, though they have plenty of other dates around the Mid-West before then. Their full tour schedule can be found HERE. Be sure to head over to iTUNES and check out their albums, too.