Until the dark thumb of fate presses down on the waning age of rock 'n' roll and says "you're finished‚" we'll at least have bands like Rose Hill Drive to keep more than a smidgen of that old spirit alive.
Because no matter how overdone the topic is‚ let's face it: rock just ain't like it used to be. Despite the thriving music scenes in most major cities‚ and even compelling scenes in smaller towns like my humble abode of Burlington (or Rose Hill Drive's hometown of Boulder‚ Co. for that matter)‚ there is still something exceptionally stagnant when juxtaposed with those earlier years that this power trio often harks back to. The fact that the closest you'll come to hearing the Band of Gypsys do "Who Knows" or "Song of Love" these days is most likely this band's interpretation is reminder of that.
But no matter‚ because Rose Hill Drive rock hard enough to make anyone present for their stage show forget about the paltry suspicions of rock's future‚ which is exactly what went down on Sunday‚ November 14th. While they got off to a rather shoddy start -- bassist Jacob Sproul's guitar cord stopped working halfway through the opener‚ "8th Wonder‚" causing him to stop the song and exclaim in a fluster‚ "This is so FUCKED‚" providing a glimmer of what the long‚ hard life on the road may be starting to do to this young band -- yet it didn't take long for them to get the crowd of about 50 totally transfixed. It was probably around the time they jumped into the aforementioned "Who Knows‚" when guitarist Daniel Sproul (who was playing a Fender rather than his usual black Les Paul) started doing whammy bar acrobatics that were just a bit too reminiscent of the forerunner he was paying homage to‚ that it felt like the entire crowd's metaphorical jaw was firmly on the floor.
And jaw dropping seems to be a running theme with this band's live abilities. It would be wrong to call them a jam band‚ but their songs rarely sound identical to their studio counterparts‚ and many of them slowly grow and evolve over time‚ making Rose Hill Drive a band to see every chance you get. Live staple "Cross the Line" found Dan wrenching some wonderfully thunderous gulps of feedback from his axe over Jake's slinky bassline during an extended intro. "Sneak Out‚" the opening track from their sophomore effort‚ Moon is the New Earth‚ is an all-too-brief slice of blusterous blooze on the record‚ but here it was slowed to a more sensual pace‚ coming off like a punked-up version of "The Lemon Song." The fact that this was their first appearance in Burlington since the release of Moon shouldn't go unmentioned either‚ since they displayed a complete command over these new tunes‚ proving that the time the on the road with Gov't Mule over the summer did them well. To a newcomer who wouldn't know the new material from old‚ the difference would be impossible to decipher.
The chugging bassline of "Reptilian Blues" slowly grew out of the feedback of "Sneak Out" as Dan once again threw some truly haunted wallops of guitar sound over the top. This tune permeates a vibe of something like a cross between "When the Levee Breaks" and "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed‚" as it's an absolute epic in the slow blues rock‚ yet onstage its structure continually grows and evolves like the Allman Brother's beloved live staple. When they reached the guitar solo this time‚ everything dropped out except for Dan's guitar‚ providing the ultimate dramatic effect for their brand of hard rock‚ and he attacked the spotlight exposure full-on‚ working up the vibe and then letting it explode in a fretboard spasm as Nate's booming kick drum and Jake's mighty bass toppled back into the mix. They weren't done there‚ however‚ and the usual chaotic jam pegged to the end of this number was pounded down into something of a more controlled state in the form of Zep's "Communication Breakdown‚" which they astoundingly hit spot-on. Not even Jake's by then ravaged pipes let up an inch in his tribute to one of rock's most godly frontmen. Once again‚ the fact that RHD's faithful rendition of this classic is the probably the closest you'll get to the real thing is another reminder of rock's more dormant days‚ but as I exited the lounge into the brisk November night‚ the ringing in my ears seemed to emit a message throughout my brain: "Just hang in there‚ rock ain't quite finished yet." We can thank Rose Hill Drive for keeping the faith alive.