Local music: The Spikedrivers
Day or night, few bands in Columbus have the power to fill up a 200-capacity bar all by their lonesome. In a pair of happy hour sets last Thursday at Rumba Cafe, The Spikedrivers reminded me why they're one of the few local bands magnetic enough to attract fans at any hour.
By the time Jesse Henry and the boys took the stage at 6:30 p.m., it was too late to find a table. By 7 p.m. you could barely find a place to stand. The early arrivers were treated to a stretch of songs that shows just how far the "roots rock" umbrella can expand. That's a good thing; The Spikedrivers' strength is in their diversity.
Opening with an easygoing, flamenco-tinged instrumental they called "Gringo Honk," they segued into the evening's first proper song, a gleaming country ballad called "West Virginia." It was the kind of stark, sad country song Jay Farrar specializes in, but it was delivered with the warmth of an old Jackson Browne record.
Then it was on to raging 12-bar blues, Henry's hair swinging wildly between harmonica blasts. They trotted out a newer number from their upcoming LP called "Music Tells the Truth," which came off something like Dire Straits performing straight-ahead '50s rock 'n' roll. A folksy power ballad simply titled "The F# Song" got a reading, too, with Henry's deep drawl sounding as much like that dude from Crash Test Dummies as George Strait.
Again, therein lies this band's glory. They are one of those chameleon combos that manage to absorb everything they touch and repurpose it in their own essence. Wilco comes to mind as a spiritual kinship, though style-wise they don't tread a ton of the same territory. One exception: During the second set, bassist/epic beardo Steven Fox unleashed an extended psychedelic roots rock jam that could have doubled as one of Wilco's Nels Cline-era ramblers.
The Spikedrivers are wise to diverge from their bluesy foundations now and then to dabble in those metropolitan sounds, which function as a salve for those of us who can't handle a full night of traditional twang. They kept me guessing Thursday, and they rarely did me wrong.