Listening to the Evening Rig is a bit like going back home and eating one of grandma's hearty, home-cooked meals—especially if your grandma is a heavy drinker who has an odd preoccupation with Reckless-era Bryan Adams. You're likely to hear yourself in the music as it fills you up, and chances are that you'll hear the influence of a few decades in Minnesota music as well.
"In my previous bands it was always the 'Dillinger Four Minneapolis Sound'" explains drummer Becky Hanten. "People want to associate [bands] with places, especially now that everyone's sick of globalization and they want to get back to local identity." And without fail, it appears as though the Evening Rig may never escape comparisons to the Twin Cities' musical patriarchs; Hanten and her bandmates are now frequently measured against bands like the Replacements and Soul Asylum.
Following the Evening Rig's first set ever in spring of 2006, Lucero frontman Ben Nichols, who was headlining the show, stepped up to the stage and said, "That boy [singer/guitarist Jason Miller] sure can sing like Paul Westerberg, can't he?" When asked about the stigmatizing comparison, Miller jokingly replied "Oh, great...here we go again." And the implication is right—the comparison is an easy one to make, but there's so much more to the band than a handful of recurring likenesses.
The seed for the Evening Rig was planted early in 2000, when Hanten first moved to Minneapolis. Having already quit his first punk band, the short-lived Peeping Eddie, Miller met Hanten through some mutual friends. The two played a number of shows together, with Miller a member of the Crush and Hanten with Cadillac Blindside and, later, Cardinal Sin.
By late 2005, Hanten and Miller had formed a friendship and started kicking around the idea of starting their own band. "Everyone in the Cardinal Sin was getting tired of it in some way or another," Hanten says. "I felt like we were winding down. When I heard that Jason wanted to start playing music again, I called him." Shortly after agreeing that they were on the same page, they were joined by bassist Jake Jarpey, formerly of the April Epidemic, and guitarist Josh Lynch.
By the fall of 2007 the band had recorded and released its debut album, Never Been'er, through Heart of a Champion, the local label co-owned by Miller's childhood friend Dan Cote.
Hanten says the new band gave her a chance to reassess her style and technique. "I really wanted to minimize the way I was playing. Everyone always says knowing when not to play is even more important than knowing what to play." And if there's any genre noted for its simple approach, it's that "Dillinger Four Minneapolis Sound" Haten mentioned.
"Play what you'd like to listen to," chimes in Lynch.
Such a philosophy carries over to the band's sound to this day. Their latest release, Is Doin' Stuff, is more streamlined than the band's first album. "We were more motivated and better prepared for this one," notes Hanten. "Never Been'er took almost a year to record, and Is Doin' Stuff took two weeks."
Though the lineup had solidified well before the Evening Rig released their debut, Is Doin' Stuff is the band's first real group effort. "When [Josh Lynch] joined the band, most of the songs on Never Been'er had already been written and he added his parts to it," Miller explains. "This time he played a big role in shaping the songs' instrumentation."
Evidence of the band's cohesion sprawls across the new material, as each new song effortlessly bleeds into the next. "The Steve McQueens" opens the album with Miller's raspy wails and broad-shouldered rhythms, and then seamlessly melts into the second track, "Half Asleep." Between the barroom hymns and belly full of songs leaning heavily on rock and country heroes of yore, it becomes clear that the band is far more than the sum of a few local influences.
"In Spite of All That Happened" has a wavy bottleneck that lurks below gentle drums and guitars, commanding a sound similar to that of the Drive-By Trucker's latest album, Brighter Than Creation's Dark. "I haven't given their new one a good listen myself. But certainly the DBT have an immediate influence on how I play music," notes Lynch.
Is Doin' Stuff goes out on a high note with "We Got Tonight." The song leaves an image of the band on stage, hammering out a liquor-fueled encore, kicking holes in their amps and punishing their instruments. "We're by no means trying to reinvent the wheel," Miller says, continuing, "but rather reinterpret rock 'n' roll the way that works for us. And yeah, I would agree that my influences bleed through in certain ways, but let's be honest, you could say that about any band."
Maybe the Evening Rig does ooze Minnesota—it should. The band welcomes the comparisons, acknowledging the similarities between the sound they've built and that of their predecessors. But Is Doin' Stuff is different—it's filling, almost too thick to listen to multiple times in succession. It could be that the band is just too much, they sound too much like every other Minnesota band to ever plug in, led by a boy who can sing like Paul Westerberg. But probably not.
"I think he sounds way more like Bryan Adams," Lynch suggests. "You gotta hear our cover of 'One Night Love Affair.'"
THE EVENING RIG will play a CD-release show with the Dynamiters and the Millionth Word on FRI., MARCH 27, at the 7th ST. ENTRY; 612.332.1775