Rose City Band at The Scala

Support: Rosali
June 1, 2023 at The Scala
Promoter: Bird on the Wire

It’s a balmy evening in Kings Cross, people are out in the streets everywhere, crowding outside pubs or just harrying about doing urban, city-people stuff.I have the opportunity to duck out of all this clamour and go share some slow, easy living with Rose City Band at the Scala. Earth Trip the band’s Covid-times album, if you will, was a great friend to me during lockdown, and so I arrive gladly, looking for some ways to ease my troubled mind.

Support act Rosali has just taken the stage as I enter the, as yet, sparsely populated room.This Philadelphia-based artist feels more like a double-header than a support act, as she shares the RCB’s pedal steel, Zena Kay, and later their stage. Rosali’s songs are strident and confessional, like Joni Mitchell’s, but with a voice like a less sassy Aimee Mann.That lap steel plus Rosali’s plucked lead bleeds nothing but emotion – there’s no action or flash. As the room begins to fill, the close magic breaks as people start chatting, and with none of the fuzz or psych edges of her records, this performance seems brittle and exposed. However, when the rest of RCB come on for the last two songs, it’s like a flower blooming in the desert. Never underestimate the power of a rock ‘n’ roll band, no matter how polite they sound. The show ends like Joni with The Band at The Last Waltz – elegant and timeless.

It’s not long before the headliners amble back on again; there’s little fanfare, just more grins from mainman Ripley Johnson who, with his neatly trimmed bushy moustache, glasses and baseball cap, looks like Ned Flanders on a fishing trip.

Now, in a country that never took to The Grateful Dead you do question the viability of a show that rambles and ambles to quite this extent. With attention spans already tested in what is now a stiflingly hot venue, it begins to look less like indulgence and more like folly. Songs like ‘Me & Wille’ have the potential to just keep moseying along on a wave of mildly psychedelic six-string cascades indefinitely, and you can feel yourself nodding your head, dumbly falling into a trance. I guess that’s the point. When a track like ‘In The Rain’ serves as an early giddy-up you do wonder how you’re going to get through another hour without a sofa, a fan or a frighteningly fast acting herbal remedy!

Somehow we all keep it together and the band play songs from all three of their albums; none particularly standout, it all just flows gently along, but some things do reveal themselves. Keyboardist Paul Hasenberg is absolutely ace, getting to his feet whenever it’s time to really lean into his grooves and shine, he brings a gorgeous texture and colourful decoration to every song. Ripley Johnson is a superb, unflashy but technically gifted lead player; quicksilver runs and bucolic plucking are all accomplished with seemingly no effort whatsoever, that beatific grin scarcely leaving his face. Hold up! Nearing the end of the set a glam rock bounce emerges out of some serious noodling into ‘Wee Hours’; it’s more silver sandals than stack heels, but nevertheless the injection of pace is most welcome.

And so it goes on, for a while longer at least. It’s no three-hour Dead extravaganza, thankfully. Think more a quick tickle in the long grass of your garden rather than the full Woodstock mud and brown acid experience. Ripley Johnson and Co are taking it easy for all of us. It’s nice, but I’ve got to get back to the real world.

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