Dancin & Drinkin at the Good Ol’ Boom Boom Room
Having watched the Golden State Warriors’ glorious and inevitable victory while drinking an irresponsible yet requisite amount of IPA, my fellow (Broke-Ass) music correspondent and I were primed to shake off couch-coma with Hunter and the Dirty Jacks at the Boom Boom Room. Indeed, upon arriving at this iconic SF institution, a self-described home of boogying, we had no choice but to shift gears. Though when we arrived there wasn’t much of a crowd the staff did a great job creating a bustling vibe. The bouncer, noticing my backpack said very gravely, “You can keep that on, but please be careful not to hit people when you move around.” Getting that close to another patron would require significant effort, but nevertheless I promised to be careful.
The Boom Boom Room is one of those small SF clubs that define so much of the city’s musical character. It routinely hosts bluesy, funky shows that erupt into uninhibited and elaborate dance parties – made up of people who actually know how to dance. As we waited for the show to start, I noticed that with a smaller crowd, the venue felt less intimate and it’s quirky decor looked almost sterile.
Those feelings dissipated when the band took the stage. Not only did the less-than robust crowd not seem to bother them, they seem to welcome the chance to fill the space. From the moment they took the stage, Hunter and the Dirty Jacks owned the room with an uncompromising energy and theatrical dominance that seemed to declare, “Everyone who isn’t here is missing something. And that something is us.” Appropriately, as they got into their set, the crowd grew.
Lead singer Hunter Ackerman champions the band’s mythical vibe by performing in a full length, fur vest-coat. He punctuated his soulful blues singing with harmonica licks, the instrument itself embedded in an animal horn (was it Elk, or Mammoth??). This further added to the magical and possibly Nordic influenced flavor of the evening. At one point, he pulled out an intricate contraption that looked at a giant wooden sling shot but turned out to be a recorder for softer, folksy interlude in the otherwise gravelly and guttural “Kennel Howl,” Between riffs Hunter would alternatively sip from another drinking horn and a medieval-looking large wooden flagon, making everyone in the room wonder, “What’s in that horn, and how can I get me some?”
His use of props (including arrays of candles flanking the stage) felt strikingly natural, as if the casual ambiguity of the theme and costume serve to create an implicit intimacy – like that of a shared secret language – between the band and the crowd. As a group, their unerring ability to pull the audience into an imaginative world provided an effective foundation for the musical journey we all explored – a tour through blues, surf jams, country, folk and of course, rock n roll.
They moved easily through a diverse set list that could have been performed by multiple bands; delivering what could almost be described as a high-brow, orchestral honky-tonk. “Jubilee” was light and almost poppy; echoing notes of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia.” They channeled a harder, more spirited sound in songs like “Back on Shaky Ground,” a country rock anthem that almost made you proud to be an American. With “Salt Whisky,” they descended into a sultry, slinky blues sound that almost conveyed a convincing tone of remorse.
But not quite. Ultimately, their joy for performance and polished stage presence was the dominant force in their set. Even as the notes, rhythms and even genres seem to shift, the band held tight to their identities as entertainers; in it not for the prey, but for the joy of the hunt.
(Sorry, I had to.)