I braved the rain one recent Friday night and walked all 20 yards from my house to catch Anthony Leon and the Chain at Tin Star Saloon. I’d heard plenty of good things about the band in the last few months, and figured it was time to see what the hoopla was all about. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect, given everyone everywhere ever has a hell of a time describing music. I was pretty sure I’d be seeing another run-of-the-mill Americana band, but was pleasantly surprised.
While singer and guitarist Leon, bassist Carlos Rodriguez and drummer Daniel Jaramillo aren’t changing the face of music, the band is still a refreshing addition to the increasingly stale and oversaturated Americana and/or alt.country landscape of the local scene.
Within moments of the first tune, I was reminded of mid-’90s rock band Polaris. Y’know, the band that performed the hit song “Hey Sandy” over the opening credits of
The Adventures of Pete & Pete
? Yeah, that band. Ever-so-subtle surf-rock undertones peeked out from behind nouveau-blues guitar work. Leon’s voice is soulful with a slight country twang—but remarkable enough not to be compared to other singers’ country twang. And it works well with what the band is going for: a fun and poppy take on an altogether too emo-fied genre.
By the third song, Leon and company were treading dangerously into Dave Matthews Band territory, as the vocals emulated douche-lord Dave himself, and the less-than-inspired guitar work reminded me of a Sublime B-side. I did my very best to play it cool and repeated my “You can’t win ’em all!” mantra to myself.
This slight stumble was remedied during the following jam, a foray into late-’50s-style doo-wop, layered sneakily beneath 12-bar blues. The musical arrangement added pure emotion to what I can only assume (it was hard to make out the vocals) was a pained love song about missing the one you love.
“I’m a very religious man,” Leon announced as The Chain began its next song, a gospel-esque ditty that describes one who has “found the light.” I strongly doubted Leon’s declaration of faith, but I’m a sucker for old-timey gospel lyricism, and I’d be lying if I told you my toes weren’t tapping.
Rodriguez didn’t stray far from country-style bass work, but in its simplicity lies the key to any successful rhythm musician: He kept time! Yeah, that sounds novel but, the truth is, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing he wasn’t interested in needlessly complicated bass acrobatics. Rodriguez knew his place and kept things moving quite properly.
Though his drum kit sounded a tad flat, Jaramillo constantly floored me with complex fills not usually found in this genre. I don’t care how good your guitarist or bassist is; if your drummer is boring, you’ve got a real problem. Jaramillo proved once again that a solid drummer is indeed worth paying attention to, and I salute his stimulating work.
The Chain transitioned between so many sounds and packed so many different genres into each number that I was left guessing—something I’ve sorely missed of late. As more and more bands in Santa Fe seem to give up on originality in favor of simply giving the booze-fueled crowds exactly what they want, The Chain works hard to keep it interesting—but still light and poppy. It’s almost as if the band were playing a trick on local bar patrons by forcing them to listen to musical styles they don’t even know they like yet.
Anthony Leon and the Chain is perfect for Santa Feans with no interest in hearing anything outside the one or two things they enjoy (don’t lie, you know it’s true) but, for those willing to dig a little deeper, they’ll find this band to be deceptive in its creative songwriting. It does justice to bands categorized as pop everywhere.
Follow SFR music news on Twitter: @