Concert review: Rough Shop, Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, Kevin Gordon and John Doe put the wraps on Twangfest 16 at the Duck Room, Saturday, June 9

Kevin Gordon at Twangfest 16. June 9, 2012. St. Louis.

Kevin Gordon at Twangfest 16. Photo by Roy Kasten.

St. Louis’ own Rough Shop kicked off the final night of Twangfest 16 with a great folk rock/blues set.

Despite the band’s name, its set was anything but rough. Rough Shop kept a groove that you could set your watch to and they meshed very well together, both vocally and instrumentally. Lead lines and solos rose up from the background and faded back so smoothly that the transition was barely perceptible. The vocal harmonies were wonderful regardless of who was singing. Rough Shop showed the bright and bouncy side of Americana with great aplomb.

Seattle is the last place I think of when country music is involved. Thankfully, Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers added it to my list of cities with great country artists when they hit the stage after Rough Shop. Zoe herself is a fine guitarist and has a sweet, soulful voice that hearkens back to classic artists like Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.

And much like those country stars, Zoe has a penchant for writing songs that tell tales of love, both true and unrequited, and surrounding herself with top-notch musicians who can propel her voice into the far corners of the venue. I was most impressed with the group’s ability to stick very close to the roots of Americana without sounding dated or rehashed. This twangy set could not have been any more country and western if had it been performed in the rowdiest honky tonk north of San Antonio — it was by far my favorite of the evening.

Appearing for his third time at Twangfest, singer-songwriter Kevin Gordon showcased the gritty side of country blues. Cranking out some of the most desperate, down-on-his-luck sounds from his amplified acoustic guitar, Gordon played songs about loss and life in general as seen from the bottom of the barrel. Being about as far from twang as you can get and still be country, some of his tunes showcased the bluesy side of rock or maybe the rocking side of blues. Playing the role of the songwriting storyteller to a T, Gordon translated his joys and sorrows into something that really spoke to the crowd. After his set, he came back out for an encore at the fans’ request.

Headlining the last night of Twangfest was John Doe, best known as a member of the punk band X. Doe performed a powerful acoustic set, accompanied by vocalist Cindy Wasserman of roots-rock band Dead Rock West. Doe and Wasserman ran through a retrospective of Doe’s musical career, including classic X tunes like “Burning House of Love,” “See How We Are” and “4th of July,” along with classics like “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and a handful of Doe’s solo works. He showed a lot of patience and energy for a man who had been up since 5 a.m., and showed remarkable tact when addressing crowd requests.

“I’m not going to play all X songs,” he responded to a few over-zealous fans. “This isn’t X, and it wouldn’t be the same. Besides, I have eight albums of solo material you can choose from.”

Doe had incredible stage presence, playfully bantering with the crowd between songs and responding to requests with comments like, “Let me play something similar. It’s in the same key” or “How about this one? It’s the same, only about a different girl.” His vocals were impressive, filling the room from corner to corner without distorting or muddying the mix. Wasserman’s harmony parts were equally impressive, almost to the point where she would not have needed a microphone to be heard above the PA.

The band selection for the final night of Twangfest was well done by presenter 88.1 KDHX and the organizers. The Duck Room was schooled in the major forms of roots, country and Americana by some of the best entertainers in the business — and everyone seemed to have a great time learning.