I’ve been through a lot with Vess Ruhtenberg. He has been involved in some of my favorite things and is responsible for some of the things I hate most. So while he may have been one of the first Indy rockers to put on a scarf and warble about tea and kittens and girls from Manhattan, I never really could hold it against him. When he rocks, he brings it good and sweaty, and he never holds anything back.
Such is the case with Action Strasse, Ruhtenberg’s band with John Zeps (owner of the 1051/Vibes Music), a band that is an unapologetically electric guitar orgy. The songs may deal with some pretty metrosexual topics, and Ruhtenberg may have a barrette in his hair, but the guitar God blood that runs through this band keeps the volume loud and the body rocking. When they opened the night last Friday, the Melody Inn was jam-packed, and the revelation was not how good Zeps and Ruhtenberg were, but how good Tony and Tommy, the bass and drummer brothers, were. It makes sense, because it could only take a killer rhythm section to cut through the six-stringed madness up front.
They had the crowd in the palm of their hands. Tony and Tommy laid out a solid groove, while Zeps brutalized his guitar and Ruhtenberg sang some great songs, particularly “American Gas Jive,” which made up some of his best stuff since his United States Three days. It was a truly remarkable performance, and I can’t wait to see where this leads.
By the time Chicago’s Megasuperultra came on, the Action Strasse crowd had cleared out, and tumbleweeds were rolling across the floor. It was a real shame, because this was a band that deserved to be seen. Led by Tom Shover, a Bloomington legend who was in Steve Kowalski’s Army and Brown Betty, Megasuperultra was a jittery, jumpy modern pop combo that followed in the best traditions laid by The Kinks, Material Issue and Cheap Trick. Despite the sparse crowd, they barreled through a hyper set that was highlighted by a killer version of “Hi-Heeled Sneakers.”
San Francisco’s The Makes Nice followed, but just couldn’t match the energy of the previous two Indiana acts.