Black/white photo of guy playing a guitar in a band

Photographic Credit to Johnny Polansky

I first saw Betsy Ross at the Blind Engineer's CD release party at Ace of Cups in July of last year. I only managed to catch a couple of songs, but I remember being impressed by the band and especially the playing of their bass guitarist. So when I heard that they were opening up for the Oklahoma City act Skating Polly at the Rumba Cafe last Monday I headed on over. I'm fond of Rumba anyway – it's walking distance from my house and I can drink all the whiskey I want. And their shows tend to start on time.

The show started with the Time Cat, a power trio from Akron that plays that vague mixture of punk/pop/rock that has dominated the indie scene for the last several decades. They did a lot of stop/starts and were well rehearsed, and beyond that they were about what you would expect.

What I did not expect, however, was the guitar work of singer/guitarist Jeri Sapronetti. It was terrific, starting with the delicious sunshiny, reverby, clean sound she was getting out of her sunburst Les Paul. Her playing had a little bit of everything, from spastic, violent lead lines to clever arpeggios and even a little finger picking. All of it was infused with great tone, solid technique and a wonderful melodic sense.

Sapronetti is a good singer, but from my perspective any time she spent singing was spent not playing the guitar and I therefore resented it. She has a decent band, but I wonder if she shouldn't ditch it and follow the instrument. Any idiot can form an indie band and write indie songs, but not that many people play guitar with that kind of ferocity and taste. I could have watched her play all night.

And then Betsy Ross. I had a weird compulsion to sing a line from the old John Prine song “Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” which I love because of the strong implication that at one point a flag decal was totally adequate. But daydreams of sardonic acoustic ballads dissipated pretty quickly when the band fired up.

Their sound is defined by Sky Crowe's aggressive bass guitar, played up the neck with a whole lot of notes. It moves and defines the sound, and carries most of the melody. In contrast, singer/guitarist Charity Crowe's work is almost percussive, punctuating and supporting the bass. This style brings to mind the John Entwistle/Pete Townshend interplay on early recordings by the Who, in particular 1970's Live at Leeds. They didn't cover “Summertime Blues,” and I didn't see Ms. Crowe windmilling, but I was holding out hope until the end.

Speaking of Ms. Crowe, her singing has gotten pretty awesome. Her voice goes from a husky whisper to a full scream, and never loses its intensity. When she really gets amped up, she charges the microphone, rocks back and forth on her tiptoes and howls, desperately hanging onto her guitar to keep herself balanced. She could give a shit less about what you think of it – she means every word.

And please don’t get the idea that she’s just yelling. It’s an amazing voice which keeps its character throughout her range, even when she goes way high while drummer Dave Wegner smashes his way to the end of some berserk crescendo.

The rawness of Betsy's sound seems to carry over into the lyrics. At one point I'm pretty sure I heard “you used to fuck me like you mean it, nowadays we don't fuck much at all.” Unfortunately, I’m not familiar enough with their work to really get my head around any lyrical themes. I’ll rectify that, although I’m not sure that it would end up mattering much anyway if you’re watching it live. If you get hit hard enough by a wave you don’t think too much about the color of the water.

After Betsy finished up, I stuck around to see a little bit of Skating Polly. Unfortunately, I had a bit too much to drink with the chuckleheads on the patio and my memory is a little dim. They were scary looking, loud, and seemed to have their shit together, but that’s pretty much all I’ve got.

Anyway, I had to work in the morning. So I headed out into a beautiful spring night with nothing to worry about but the Hudson Street crosswalk. Life was good.

Later on that night, though, I tried to confirm the above quoted “like you mean it” lyric by looking to see if anybody had posted them online. All I was able to find was the twitter feed @RogueRossHouse, which is purportedly run by a “rogue volunteer” at the Betsy Ross house in Philadelphia and invites visitors to “come fuck the flag!” Seriously, you can't make this shit up.

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