Attempting to classify the Riverboat Gamblers is a dicey business. On the one hand, they have the speed and intensity of punk rock, at times sounding like a vintage Epitaph band. On the other, they have the gang vocals and sheer brutality of hardcore. And yet, the swagger and the attitude that this Austin band conveys is nothing more than pure, straight-up rock `n’ roll. By default, category number three wins, but not without dragging the other two along for a drinking binge and some good, old fashioned violence.
Those who have heard of the Riverboat Gamblers already will have certainly heard about the incident where bassist Mr. Lillard was smashed in the face with a microphone, thus leaving with four fewer teeth than when he had entered the venue. It’s this sort of reckless and dangerous spirit that governs the path of the RGs. This may remind some of Aaron Icarus’ similar glass smashing SXSW Stevie Ray guitar theft incident, and hell, it should. The Icarus Line have a lot in common with the Gamblers. But instead of dealing in sleazy cocaine rock, these Texan fellas play their rock and roll with more of an old school bent, injecting it with the rockabilly hellfire of The Supersuckers or the good time garage rock of Rocket From the Crypt.
To the Confusion of Our Enemies, the band’s fourth, doesn’t offer anything new, per se, the band just happens to continue in their tradition of playing it loud and fast, and a little snotty too. Opener “True Crime” has the perfect amount of get up and go to get the album up and going, charging full speed toward the gang chorus of “my head’s not screwed on right.” “Year of the Rooster” mixes in some fiery Hammond organ for a more soulful effect, while “Walk Around Me” keeps it peppy and fun, which all of their songs do really, and that’s what makes Riverboat Gamblers such an enjoyable band. Even at their most fierce, they sound like the best time you’ve ever had, and totally pretense free. Well, except for the song titles, such as “Biz Loves Sluts” and “The Riverboat Gamblers Try Their Hand at International Diplomacy,” and the aimless fuckery of “Unicorn Shave Your Horn.”
Any band that can make a power chord sound like something new deserves some kind of medal in my book. The Riverboat Gamblers do just that, taking simple, Stooges-inspired rock and filtering it into an inspired blend of garage and punk rock, causing trouble and doing damage, but inviting the entire block to join in on the destruction.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.