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Local band upstages headliner: Neon Reverb, Sept. 12, Beauty Bar

Natural Child (photo by Max Plenke)
Natural Child (photo by Max Plenke)

And on the second night of Neon Reverb, Beauty Bar gave to us its headliner second. At least, that’s what you might’ve thought right after Crazy Chief played its debut gig (we’ll get to that), when most of the crowd dissipated, just before Nashvillian psych-rock trio Natural Child went live.

The Child singer had his bandana tied around shaggy blond hair, and his bass player was tall, equally shaggy, looking a lot like this kid I used to go to high school with who had canyons of weed and code-named it “listening to Black Sabbath,” because he did pretty equal amounts of both. In fact, you might’ve guessed they were going to play some guitar-indulgent stuff based on their appearances alone. It wasn’t until they started playing that the Nashville sound came out. Little hints of swung-out Southern chords and two-packs-a-day vocals. Heavy and simple, grungy, thankfully not on the same bill as Ty Segall lest they sound too similar. The kind of music you’d want for a barbecue at which most guests wear jean-jacket vests.

But if crowd appearances dictate their bands the way owners match their pets, Crazy Chief took the cake. With length and rattiness of hair came greater enthusiasm as the new project of Pigasus and Red Feather/Dirty Somethings pulled into the sort of music best enjoyed in leathers and from the bars of a hog (because calling it a motorcycle isn’t heavy enough for the context). The most striking part was probably, given the enthusiasm of the music, the sheer wall of Southern rock ‘n’ roll turned brick and mortar on its way from the monitors, with the lack of expression the members showed. The rhythm section, soloing or otherwise, kept a look of concentrated nonchalance. Even Drew Johnson, looking every bit the Jim Morrison, standing at his microphone front and center, only swayed, like he was singing from the deck of a sinking ship.

But the crowd was eating it up, this immaculately executed rock music a million Jets and Darknesses will never grasp. And then the harmonica blew into the outfield in long, deliberate honks, like a train leaving one of the less-friendly stations along the Carlin Trend. It was the kind of set during which fans breathlessly say, “Jeez, the next acts better step it up.” And unfortunately for Natural Child, and locals Restless Suns after them — who were still good, with their echoey, sometimes surfy, sometimes psychedelic dirtball sound (like something you might hear at Frankie's Tiki Room or the Double Down), but caught the short end of the stick when it came to set times and audience retention — this was one of those times when no amount of up-stepping could protect them.