Saturday, February 26, 2005

The 22-20s/Southpaw/Feb 22, 2005

by Abi Cameron

The 22-20s look like the cast of Reservoir Dogs with better haircuts. They play a thudding, full-body impact, non-stop wall of gritty, supped-up neo-blues for 40 minutes – one song screeching into the next, transforming the 9 p.m. beer-nuzzling crowd into the 9:05 p.m. party. It’s dirty. It’s loud. The sound guy ran around his booth attempting to sooth the whining sound-system. The bass throbs down the stage, across the floor and up my legs when singer/guitarist/songwriter Martin Trimble’s first lines slam through the air and hit me. I want to dance. I want to make out with…somebody.

Bassist Glen Bartrup, tall and emaciated, is the focus of every press camera (and my point-n'-shoot) in the place. He struts around the stage like a young Mick Jagger, wrapping Trimble in his trailing cable and seemingly taunting him into an onstage battle of Who’s-The-Bigger-Rockstar. But this is not a choreographed rock show. There are no looping-“rockstar” moves. None of the usual “I’m-so-out-of-control” jumps and slides and jives. They create a show one beat at a time. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve felt like I was seeing four guys playing their hearts out. This cranking energy is not lost on the crowd. Trimble sneers back. Bartrup gyrates into his bass and writhes in fits of ecstasy.

Tumbling bass and drum syncopations, like sneakers in a dryer, make me feel like a Mexican jumping bean. I just don’t know which way to jump first. Instead, I’m carried away on the rolling, gospel-kissed organs that they slather on top of it all. All the while, Trimble slurs and growls and prances his way through one incendiary song after another. With the best use of syncopated rhythms since 'Cry Me A River', the 22-20s are a hybrid of Interpol and Slim Harpo.

Formed three years ago and named after the Delta bluesman, Skip James'
piano-led '22-20 Blues,' the Lincolnshire 22-20's are not what is rolling off the current garage-rock conveyer belt. They play fast bluesy rock. This isn't your White Stripes novelty-brand blues; this is the real thing - they've got heavy, dirty bass guitar, and enviable guitar maneuvers. The bulk of their set is composed of catchy, filthy songs that embed themselves in your cranium on impact. They actually have something to hang their hat on – white man's blues. It's the same blues that Eric Clapton brought to British music in the late 60s, Bowie twisted into one-blue-eyed soul in the 80s and the Black Keys have brought into the 21st century.

They have the obligatory garage-rock Ode to a Fucked-up Relationship ("Messed Up") and the standard Ye Olde Apology Song ("22 Days") but they douse these less than original themes in seeping rhythms and noise so full and distinct that I don’t care. You just want to see what happens next.

The licks, hooks and chops are all there and you get the sense that they are playing from a need to get something off their chests and it works. If you’re shooting for the blues as white boy brits, you’ve got to really mean it and persuade an audience you really mean it. The 22-20’s are very convincing. They play straight-forward blues-rock that you could probably hear coming out of any dive bar in Mississippi, but the 22-20s take what could be a languid, bluesy jam and pound you over the head with it. Again. And again. And I still wanted more.

Perhaps the 22-20's best song is "Devil In Me." An exhausting bass line, rock-hard drums and lyrics lifted from Robert Johnson's diaries propel this sweat-inducer from its actual four-plus minutes into what seems like a minute forty-five. This is the one to put on a tape for an ex-boyfriend to convince him that you've turned evil and hard post break-up.

The show ends when they just simply stop. The stage is empty in minutes. There has been no banter between the band and the audience during the show. Nothing is said when they leave the stage. This is not a band for small talk. And I could care less.