Pearls and Brass bring loud, complex riffs to Fernwood.

Smalltown Hardrock: Branching Out: Up-and-coming Pearls and Brass is just the latest of several big-time groups to visit Fernwood.

Nazareth is a town of 6,000 residents located in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, under the shadow of nearby Blue Mountain. With just four full-time police officers, Nazareth is known primarily as the home to three things: the Andretti auto racing family, the Martin Guitar Factory and the country’s oldest fire engine. Despite these luminous local resources, it is the sort of small town that bores the heck out of its youth and either forces the young ‘uns to get into trouble or pick up a serious hobby. Luckily, Josh Martin and cousins Randy Huth and Joel Winter picked up guitars and drums as their teenage years began. “These are the first dudes I played with,” Martin says. “Basically, we started jamming. We had all afternoons to do nothing.” The jamming led to a careening punk band called The Elated, which played houses and squats in the Nazareth area. But it was not The Elated that propelled the three out of Nazareth and onto the national stage. Rather, in 2001, the three moved into a different direction with the formation of a new band called Pearls and Brass. The nascent outfit’s sound reflected the three young men’s interest in hard rock bands like Goatsnake, and a mutual love of old bluesmen like Skip James. Martin says that he and his longtime buddies—he has known the cousins since they were 6—were drawn to old blues records because they were both raw and cerebral. “At first, it was something ominous—flat-out terrifying—about those records,” Martin says. When the trio started Pearls and Brass, Martin recalls, he had the sort of typical dead-end job—driving a delivery van running documents around Nazareth and the surrounding communities. Around the same time, the band played their first real gig at a college cafeteria in nearby Bethlehem. In 2003, one individual dramatically altered the course of Pearl and Brass’ career. The trio had just released a self-titled CD on a regional label called Double Decker Records and were readying themselves for a tour of the Midwest. At the last minute, the tour was cancelled, but the guys hit the road anyway, dropping off copies of their CDs at venues where they hoped to secure a show. In Louisville, Kentucky, Pearls and Brass left a copy of their release at a pizza parlor, where David Pajo—known primarily for playing in the legendary underground band Slint—was performing that evening with a side project called Papa M. Though Pearls and Brass were not offered a spot on that bill, Pajo heard the CD later and asked the band to play a significantly larger show: the 2005 All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival in England, which featured alt-rock stars like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Yoko Ono and The Melvins. Following that gig, Pajo urged a colleague at Drag City Records to check out one of the band’s gigs in Toledo, Ohio. Shortly thereafter Pearls and Brass were a part of the popular independent rock label’s roster. Pearls and Brass entered the studio with just 11 songs, which they had played over and over and refined many times. The result is The Indian Tower, a release that recalls the complicated riff-rock of bands like Fu Manchu and Kyuss on songs like “The Boy of the Willow Tree.” Though it is easy to get caught up in the cascading riffs, there are a lot of other dynamics to the songs, including abrupt changes and splintering guitar solos, that testify to the bandmates’ long history together. In addition, the band ends up showing their blues influences on a couple of acoustic tracks, particularly “I Learn the Hard Way,” which sounds like country blues with vocals somewhat reminiscent of Layne Staley, the departed singer of Alice in Chains. The band’s big live rock sound is impressive enough to get Six Organs of Admittance to join Pearls and Brass for Saturday’s show at Big Sur’s Fernwood. Ben Chasny, who basically is the indie folk outfit Six Organs of Admittance, has not been touring because he has been finishing up work on his band’s latest release. But, witnessing a December Pearls and Brass show at San Francisco’s 12 Galaxies is one of the reasons—along with the fact that Chasny loves playing Fernwood—that he is doing a one-off gig. “It’s super fucking loud rock,” Chasny says of Pearls and Brass’ live show. With the band from the small town in Pennsylvania being hyped up by fellow independent musicians and publications like Entertainment Weekly, Pearls and Brass’ career is rocketing upward. Having upcoming gigs in New York, one wonders if these guys miss the modest charms of Nazareth. Apparently not—Martin says he and his bandmates have all moved to Philadelphia. Pearls and Brass play Fernwood Bar, 24 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1 in Big Sur, with Six Organs of Admittance Saturday Feb. 11 at 8:30pm. $8.50/advance by e-mailing abagproduction@yahoo.com; $10/at the door. 667-2422.

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