Thursday, April 30, 2009

“Rhino Return”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Early in this year, while Geauga was still blanketed with snow, I received an interesting request at the Icehouse home office. Members of the iconoclastic Rock group ‘Rhino Bucket’ sent out a call to their dedicated fans in an effort to raise funds for a CD release that had not yet been completed. The offer was straightforward: to pre-pay for this developing project and receive a special price on the eventual product in return.

It was an investment opportunity that I couldn’t ignore.

I met the band in 2006 at Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom, and was hooked by the minimalist intensity of their live performance. A column in this newspaper followed, describing their gritty, straightforward style of music. They are often compared to Australia’s most famous export, AC/DC. Yet while Angus Young and his cohorts have ascended to high-dollar glory, Rhino Bucket has remained humbly streetwise, and pure. They are a bar band at heart. Seared and scarred from living on the hedonistic pathway first blazed by raucous axemasters like Link Wray.

As I endured the unpredictable weather of February on the northcoast, my anticipation for this new slab of rhino audio grew. Then, lead animal Georg Dolivo wrote about the creation on his own Internet page:

“I am, at this moment, holding the new Rhino Bucket CD in my hands! Wow, it sounds great. And the artwork that we came up with Acetate Records is awesome. And when I say awesome, I mean it kicks good… I've been listening to it all day and it just gets better and better… this rhino is getting ready to roll!”

Soon afterward, a package arrived from the record company. My pulse quickened while tearing it open.

This was the moment I had anticipated throughout Ohio’s freezing rain, snow squalls and hail! In the embrace of nightfall, I sat alone with the recording, and reflected on Georg’s vibe:

“The beers in the fridge are cold. Life is good. I hope it stays this way…”

While listening to their new disc for the first time, I scribbled stream-of-consciousness notes on a pad of paper. The result was a testament written in the dark hue of black coffee after midnight:


1. THE HARDEST TOWN – Hard times in the bailout age. The hardest town stretches from New York to L. A., breathing deep of the gathering gloom and another payday. Beer-stained leather and denim. A fist to the dawn. Hard hearts steeled by the slap of fate. Wounded by want. Yet they travel on.

2. JUSTIFIED – A flat tire on the information superhighway. Rumble and roll on the roadside. Boot heels tap in time to the jukebox. Notes ride like glistening sweat-drops down the guitar neck.

3. KNOW MY NAME – I got a reputation, earned crouching on the stage. Bruised up and blackened, but back for another round… did you catch my name? I’m dirty from highway grit, juggling loose cigarettes and spare change. Somewhere I know there’s a telephone booth spray painted with my name.

4. DOG DON’T BITE – Been there before, humbled and roadworn. Wheels spinning lazy in the night. The air of cologne in our room, but not my kind. What’s the trick? No more brews in the fridge. My newspaper has been read. The air is stale with restless guilt. What is that alarm ringing in my head?

5. NO ONE HERE – Empty hours, riding waves in a bottle. Peering through the vastness of night, cloud-streaked and bleak. The riddles have no solution, only endurance fueled by fate. Will you be laughing at the break of day?

6. STREET TO STREET – Lost in the city. Invisible by design. Alive in the creeping vacuum of a shadow’s fall. I vanish from the corner like spit on concrete. My contrails smoke the alleyway in a blaze of tobacco mist. Run with me if you like. I’m a fleeting echo of laughter, in the night. Ride with me, it’ll be alright.

7. TAKE ME DOWN – There’s a funky taste in the breeze. Standing tall, but I’m knocked to my knees. What’s your magic, angel? The spell you cast has me playing the role of a beggar. My soul surrender is sweet. I am broken, at your feet.

8. SHE’S WITH ME – This anthem is carried on peals of thunder. Given up as words to the unwise. She is mine! Temptation leads the way to judgment. Don’t fall prey to the blind.

9. YOU’RE GONE – Breathing your memory like a bar room haze. Life goes on, they say… but I don’t want to know. Waking up alone and cold in the light of day. Cough through a smoke and I’ll be on my way.

10. TO BE MINE – Stroll down the boulevard, catching grins. The beggar returns, with a tin cup full of quarters. Hooked on the game. Hoping to be unconscious before the dawn. Just one juke-step from the netherworld. Whiskey-soaked and nearly broke. But stumbling on…

11. SLIP AWAY – Spirit soaring, I’m pared down to my electric essence. A wisp of human nature against the sky. My fingers fly over prayer stones and amplified tones. Native blood carries me away. In another life, I was brave and sure. Soon enough, I will be that way again. Chant to the fire and my veins go hot. Fly with me, my friend!

After the music faded, I began to ponder their work more deeply.

I mused that ‘The Hardest Town’ seemed to be a perfect anthem for the bailout era. With American institutions falling into ruin amid the chaotic leadership of our business moguls and elected officials, the nation was literally trembling on its foundation. But the bare-knuckled observation of Georg Dolivo that “this is the only town I know” said more than any political speech could hope to offer. Despite the rhetoric of those gifted by fortune, our plight was unchanged.

In ‘The Hardest Town’ life continued in throbbing pulses of angst and alienation with indifference to the great collapse on Wall Street. For working-class heroes, it offered no more than a footnote to their existence.

Gas money? Quarters for the pool table? The price of a twelve-pack at the corner store? Those needs might prod the street-level human psyche with immediate effect.
But interest in the fate of wealthy moneychangers on the Dow Jones Index?

Not likely for those living on a diet of concrete and road rash.

The universal nature of Rhino Bucket’s message made each guitar riff reverberate with authenticity. From San Diego to Phoenix to St. Louis, to Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland… the tale was unstoppable.

In ‘The Hardest Town’ no one would notice woeful calamities among the fortunate few.
True inspiration would come on a barstool at two o’clock in the morning.

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