This review is the first in a series of essays that I have written/am writing for many of my undergraduate journalism classes. Enjoy.
Instant Hobo @ Mugshots, Tempe, AZ. Nov 10, 2012
Reviewed by Mikael Lewis
From its location at the cross-streets of Apache and Rural, near the heart of the ASU campus, I assumed Mugshots would be a typical student dive bar. I was right on the money. Jutting out from the corner of another heartless strip mall, the vomit green neon Mugshots sign foreshadowed the faces of the clientele to be found inside. Opposite the entrance door is an array of police arrest photos revealing the bedraggled faces of Johnny Cash, Keanu Reeves, Bugsy Malone, and Jim Morrison et al; Mugshots indeed! As I ventured past the portrait gallery, I was instantly confronted by the appalling sound of hip-hop karaoke. This was not what I was expecting as the opener for a critically acclaimed Americana band. Not to be deterred, I decided to have a beer to put my senses at ease. As an alternative to the $2 PBR student special, I opted for the frothy hemp ale that was tonight’s tap special. The earthy brew was actually a rather tasty concoction that set me in the proper frame of mind to hear some good ole Americana music.
As the band was setting up, I contemplated the anticipation leading up to this gig. Instant Hobo’s front man and chief writer, John Feula, has been a favorite of mine since hearing him play in a Chandler Coffee shop some 13 years ago. With the addition of drummer James Thorp and bass player Jasun Downing, Feula’s quirky alternative folk sound has been transformed into a powerhouse fusion of old school country, alt country, southern rock, punk, and rockabilly. Instant Hobo came together some time after I had moved away from Arizona. After following the band from a distance, I was excited to finally see them perform in a live setting.
There wasn’t much of a crowd at this show but there was definitely a feeling of shared appreciation among the gathered few; a sense that they alone were privy to a highly treasured secret. (Feula later quipped that the phrase “There wasn’t much of a crowd” should be used as his epitaph). After working through some technical hitches with a decidedly inadequate house PA system, Mugshots manager, Country, introduced the band with hearty praise; calling Hobo his favorite local band. With this introduction as a starting gun, Feula et al bolted into their set.
As the band launched into the rockabilly/train shuffle of Bitter Biscuit Line, I couldn’t help but notice that the cheap speakers, Radio Shack mics, and minimal crowd did not seem to faze Instant Hobo or minimize their enthusiasm in the slightest bit. I got the feeling that these boys would be equally comfortable playing an arena or a backwater barn hoedown. After Bitter Biscuit came the tune Some Lies Are Worth Living; a sort of pop/country romp extoling the virtues of making the best of a bad situation. The next tune, Strange Old Man, reminded me ofmy grumpy old neighbor Delbert Barney channeled through the likes of Johnny Cash or Ernest Tubb. I could almost picture Delbert sitting on his porch, shotgun in hand, just waiting for some insolent street urchin to step one foot on his precious lawn.
With the comedic No Room For Pie, Feula croons through such words as “My back is aching for seconds of bacon.” (Feula, 2010). This strolling jazz numberhad me laughing out loud with its goofy, Bugs Bunny/Mel Brooks style sexual innuendo. The tune Marshall Pass continued the jazzy themebut drove it into more of a punk/jazz style reminiscent of the Dead Kennedy’s tune We’ve Got A Bigger Problem Now. Just as I was snapping my fingers to this punkish jazz shuffle, Hobo switched gears and launched into a dueling bass/guitar section that reminded me of Marshall Tucker or Molly Hatchett at their raunchy southern best. Then, just as quickly as he had come, Feula’s Southern Rock Hobo handed the reins right back to his virtual old school Ernest Tubb before I even knew what had happened. The musicality inherent in a band that can change directions so quickly without losing the audience boggles the mind. As I looked around the tiny room it was obvious, from the broad smiles and tapping feet, that the crowd was every bit as enraptured as I was.
After rolling through obvious crowd favorites such as the hilarious Two Story Outhouse, Mojo’s Funeral, and Rock Island Rocket, Instant Hobo completed their set with their latest tunes Gator Queen, South Americana, and Out From The Ashes. Gator Queen, athumpingSouthern Swamp Rock gem of a tune, findsFeula returning to his Florida roots as a swamp rat in search of his ever elusive reptilian nemesis. I’d not be surprised if this tune were to surface on an episode of The History Channels Swamp People. They certainly couldn’t find a better suited tune. When questioned, Feula confirmed that he did have the show in mind when writing the tune. It has been submitted for inclusion in the show but Feula has yet to receive any word.
The tune South Americana continued Instant Hobo’s new Southern Rawk theme. The song’s lyrics seem to plant tongue firmly in cheek with words expressing the virtues of cheap beer, jacked up pickups, and redneck attitudes. I have a feeling though, that this tune would be beloved by the very folks it is berating in the same way that Springsteen’s Born in the USA or Dire Strait’s Money For Nothing have been.
The boys concluded the show with their latest single;craftily penned by Hobo’s bass player, Jasun Downing. Out From the Ashes is an inspiring tale about getting back on your horse after a heartbreaking tumble. This tune certainly channels the bands beloved American southwest landscape much like an Ennio Morricone film would do. If ever there is a full feature film about the ill-fated young Southwestern explorer Edward Reuss or the anarchist writer Edward Abbey, then Out From The Ashes should serve as its theme tune. Perhaps Instant Hobo could even host the premier and finally receive the size of crowd that they surely deserve?
For more information about Instant Hobo, visit their website at http://www.instanthobo.com
Feula, J. (2010), No Room for Pie [Recorded by Instant Hobo], From the album Honey the Horse [Compact Disc]. Mesa, AZ, Instant Hobo Records (November, 2010)