The Devil Makes Three is one of those bands that I have had the privilege to watch go from cutting their teeth playing for small crowds in dive bars to being one of the best-drawing, most successful punk-inspired string bands on the West Coast. The Devil Makes Three was ahead of the curve so to speak, and were willing to put their nose to the grindstone. That is why it feels good to see them rewarded for it.
But I have to admit that for the past year or so, my string appetite has been being quenched by bands like .357 String Band and Split Lip Rayfield. The Devil Makes Three started my appetite, but I was going other places to fill it. That is why I was intrigued when I heard that guitar man Pete Bernhard had started a solo project: A fresh sound from a familiar face.
I didn’t know what to expect when I saw that Pete was rolling through town on tour. The tracks online I found sounded great, but would it be just him and his guitar? How similar would it be to DM3? The answers were “no” and “not really,” but the soul of what makes DM3 special was still there. This was helped along by the fact that fellow DM3 mate Cooper McBean was playing bass, and final DM3 member Lucia was lurking around in the crowd as well.
Simply put, The Pete Bernhard Band was great. They had the high energy of DM3, but with a full electric rock n’ roll sound, not devoid, but complimented by the country/rootsy elements of Pete’s songwriting, and a great pedal steel/organ player. DM3 is punk-inspired bluegrass, and Pete is rock inspired country. Despite whatever the mood of the lyrics were, the music was upbeat and got your heart pumping. The song arrangement was very tasteful and intelligent, but not artsy; very accessible and enjoyable without being strictly catchy. They had a “sound” if that makes sense. And I dare say that sound was just as good, if not better (I say cringing) than The Devil Makes Three.
They played the best version of Townes van Zandt’s “Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold” I have ever heard, and that is not a light statement, as Steve Earle and Justin Townes’ version on the recent Townes is my favorite track on that album. This cover fit along great with Pete’s originals: edgy, sweat drenched Americana lyrics with a punch.
I am really excited about seeing where Pete Bernhard goes from here, and I say that because the project might still be going through some fleshing out. One criticism I have about the performance was that it was too short, but Pete acknowledged this on stage, saying they needed to write and work up some more songs, and this was also balanced against a very low cover charge for a concert by a fairly popular name.
This was actually the second time Pete Bernhard solo had rolled through town, and a few people I talked to said the first time the band had only been a three piece, and that Pete with Cooper McBean on bass, along with drums and a pedal steel/organ player was a much better sound.
Pete Bernhard also has a solo album out, Straight Line and it is great. I really hope to see and hear a lot more from this project in the coming months and years.
Here’s an amazing track from Pete’s first solo album Things I Left Behind: