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Singer-guitarist Michael Rennie started honky-tonking roots-rock outfit Rio Peligroso after a decade of “band-hopping” cross-country through other people’s projects, from the Bicycle Thieves in Gainesville, Florida (known for musical exports Tom Petty, Less Than Jake, and Against Me) to San Diego bands AM Vibe, Inigo, and Roxy Monoxide.
A cover project, Rio Peligroso mines deep cuts by fringe artists. Rennie’s vision saw light when he surrounded himself with a talented batch of players, including Kite Flying Society’s rhythm section David Lizerbram (bass) and Todd Caschetta (drums) and former Seventh Day Busker Dan Broder (guitars).
“The band was a reaction to a number of things, including a lifetime spent playing in all-originals bands. Like most musicians who came of age in the post-punk era, I’d been conditioned to believe that playing covers was an artistically bankrupt — even morally bankrupt — practice. Thing is, all of the great bands of the rock era — the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Who, the Byrds — cut their teeth playing covers. So Rio Peligroso was an attempt to balance life as a player in all-originals bands with a desire to play in different venues for a different audience. I wanted to form a cover band that I would want to see.
“The ‘alterna-tonk’ scene seems pretty darned healthy right now. Seems every gig we play we’ve just missed Brawley, Three Chord Justice, Bill Cardinal, or Bartender’s Bible. I’d say we have the same booking agent except I’m our booking agent. I went to the John Meeks/Donkeys CD-release show at the Casbah a couple weeks back and all I can say is ‘Wow.’ Both great bands; both great CDs.”
So how often do audience members recognize the obscure cover tunes? “That’s one of the biggest perks — the wild-eyed guy who grabs you as you’re coming offstage elated because he heard a band play Hank Snow, Camper Van Beethoven, late-era Byrds...or a Band song that isn’t ‘The Weight.’ I like to call what we do a ‘curatorial exercise’ — like hanging paintings in a museum. I don’t want to sound too high-brow about it ’cause at the end of the day it’s about shaking booty or squeezing out a few tears in your beer, but you won’t hear us doing ‘Brown Eyed Girl.’ ”