Tucked away under the starlit sky of the Morongo Basin in the Mojave exists Pappy & Harriet's, a saloon-style venue to southwestern country blues and slow-cooked barbeque. Acts of all types come through its doors and stage, from local desert folk to Paul McCarney. The space is large but cramped, with tables and memorabilia in every direction you look. It's a warm, dimly lit dive bar, where you are more likely to find a cowboy hat than a mohawk.
On Oct. 24 the walls of Pappy’s came alive with a double bill of music that seemed to perfectly embody the essence of the southwestern saloon space it was performed in. The Blue Rose Rounders, an up and coming country-folk group led by former garage rock drummer Emily Rose Epstein of the Ty Segall Band, opened for Atlanta natives The Black Lips, a group that’s been making southern tinged bluesy punk since the early aughts, providing Pappy & Harriet's with an incredibly fitting night of music.
The Blue Rose Rounders kicked everything off with beautiful, comfort food country music. Emily Epstein led the group on a short set of genuine, simple country tunes with her acoustic guitar and classically familiar vocal style. Songs about leaving California for Texas soil and losing your loved one felt familiar and warm, with J.C. August’s bluesy solos and twangy pedal steel brightening the night with shimmery charm. After several numbers, Emily invited Oakley Munson for a duet cover of “I’m Layin’ It on the Line,” where a maraca shaking Munson put on his best Buck Owens hat and delivered a stellar performance worth swingin’ your partner around for.
It’s interesting considering Emily’s past as a drummer for Ty Segall’s most aggressively thrashy projects while seeing her with the Rounders. It truly feels like she’s been a part of this southwest country world forever. Not only does she sound and look the part, but as a songwriter, she comes off as vulnerable and introspective as she seems to tip her hat to classic country and folk artists, writing beautifully traditional ballads and ditties about love, life, death and change. This is an artist who made a change, bold and brave, now on the other side of it, comfortable, confident and in her element. It doesn’t hurt that her band, also made up of Jordan Edwards and “Tasty” Dave Fox looks and sounds the part as well.
Immediately after the Rounders finished, a heavily intoxicated Jared Swilley, vocalist and bassist of The Black Lips came out to do sound-check. After a fair struggle communicating with the sound booth, the band came on stage and began their set, which was rowdy, sloppy and chaotic with an amazing repertoire of jittery, bluesy southwestern friendly punk music that’s as crazy as it is American. During an hour-and-twenty-minute, career-spanning set, the band showed that they can still be loud, that they can get bluesy and western and that Swilley could probably still play the bass perfectly well and on time regardless of how close he may be to blacking out. As shocking as it may have been, it was honestly impressive.
The Black Lips have always been notorious for not giving a fuck; vocalist and guitarist Cole Alexander has been known to flash his genitals, urinate on stage and regularly vomit mid-performance due to aggressive acid reflux, and the groups last two decades of constant touring has hardened them to become masters in debaucherous, groovy ruckus. Their current lineup consists of Cole and Jared, who are original members of the group, Munson and guitarist Jeff Clarke being the newest members, having joined within the last two years, and saxophonist Zumi Rosow, who has been with the band since 2013, becoming a centerpiece to their sound throughout the band’s last two records.
Zumi, a Gucci model and independent jeweler, has her own LA-based musical project with Cole named CRUSH, and her bond with Cole is evident on stage and in their musical rapport. She seemed to be the most aware of how severely intoxicated Jared and Jeff seemed to be, and guided the group through their setlist and the breaks between songs, quickly cutting unintelligible drunken banter with countdowns or queues for moving on. Zumi is also seemingly at the helm of the band’s new material, being the highlight of the night as they performed their newest single “Odelia” as well as an untitled unreleased track that features Zumi on vocals.
Oakley Munson was also sharp as a tack, feeding off of Cole and Zumi’s energy incredibly dynamically from start to finish, maintaining the group together during its rawest moments and feeding into the Pappy crowd’s desire to move their feet and saddle up. Jeff Clarke seemed to be the only link that wasn’t on his best game, seemingly over-intoxicated but lacking the muscle memory efficiency of Jared’s performance, often playing solos or riffing off with missing notes or missed strums, causing for disjointed, impulsively dizzy contributions that teetered on the edge of cringe-y.
At one point, Clarke had the microphone on the floor and was talking into the mic-less mic stand for an extended bit, as well as getting his guitar cable stuck in a massive knot that kept him from playing most of a whole song. That said, he played it off as funny and it truly was hard to tell what was an act as he got progressively more drunk the later the show went on. Jared was wasted and remained wasted. The rest were well aware and fed into it, which honestly was the best move, as The Black Lips have always been synonymous with this sort of behavior.
Granted, it has been fifteen years since their debut, I will argue and believe this set serves as proof that their music has always benefited from their most unhinged behavior and that even as they mature and explore more complex compositions and styles in their music, they will always be a rowdy bunch ready to cause trouble, and what better venue to prove that point and test out new music than the cowboy bar out in Pioneertown, California.
Photos by Adrian Vega Albela Osorio
Adrian Vega Albela Osorio is a 23-year-old multimedia artist from Mexico based in Los Angeles. His work focuses on documenting the contemporary underground psychedelic music scene in Los Angeles. Follow Adrian on Instagram @stripedbeatle.