Eugene Weekly : Music : 7.26.07

The Genius of Hillstomp
Misery loves a driving guitar riff

Hillstomp, Cicada Omega, Glassell Park. 9 pm Friday, July 27, John Henry’s • $5, 21+ show

Say you have a friend coming to town. You’re not not excited to see that person, but it’s been a while and you’re worried about how to entertain him or her. Maybe you were Goths back in the day and you’ve heard your buddy works for Pfizer now, or you used to barbecue together and so-and-so’s become an anarchist vegan. Rather than learning to cook tempeh or brushing up on the latest in pharmaceutical patent law, your best bet would be praying to your deity of choice that Hillstomp is playing in town that night (or driving to wherever they are playing) because if your houseguest doesn’t end up liking Hillstomp, you probably don’t want to be their friend anyway.

It’s true that you generally can’t go wrong with the blues, but Hillstomp goes so right with the blues that pretty much anyone who sees their show becomes an instant convert. Fans who caught Henry Kammerer and John Johnson at John Henry’s last year may want to listen for their own hoots and hollers on the backtracks of the duo’s latest album, After Two But Before Five, partially recorded live at Eugene’s most beloved hole in the wall. Johnson and Kammerer make it sound so easy: two guys, some buckets, a guitar, a distortion microphone … but that’s the genius of it. The aching, soul-twisting impact of songs like “Roustabout” or the classic “Dark Clouds a-Risin'” is a product not only of talent but a visceral understanding of how minor chords, relentless percussion and songs in the key of misery can strip an audience bare. Not that Hillstomp is a downer; fortunately, misery loves company and a driving guitar riff, and you’re guaranteed both at this show.

Call it trance blues, “hill country blues stomp,” “bucket ‘n’ slide rock ‘n’ roll” or whatever. Hillstomp’s reverent modernization of classic blues (including covering greats like R.L. Burnside and Mississippi Fred McDowell) has carved a musical niche that is nothing short of revolutionary. Don’t miss your chance to say you saw them when.