Musical smorgasbord, fine-tuned |

Musical smorgasbord, fine-tuned

Wren Wertin
Special to the DailyThe Waybacks were on San Francisco's roots music wave before "O! Brother" revived the scene. They're still riding strong.

The word “eclectic’ is a big no no in journalism, used only when there’s nothing else to say about a band, a play, a performance. Yet there’s no word as fitting for the Waybacks. Using newgrass instrumentation in their acoustic show, they reference swing and jazz as much as they do bluegrass. Judging from their first album, “Devolver,” the most cohesive element in their playing is joie de vivre. Exuberant mandolin and banjo tease the guitar into a game, with style. Fingers fly down the strings, coaxing melodies into the air.

The Waybacks have been an entity for three years, and have been touring for half of that time.

“It’s sort of gone beyond our wildest dreams,” said Coyle (rhythm and finger style guitar, vocals). “This band sort of fell together, the way all bands do. We knew we had lightning in a bottle when we did “Devolver.’ Since then it’s been onward and upward.”

As Coyle explains, musicians tend to drift in and out of projects, looking for a good fit or simply a group that will be around more than a season. The boys of the Waybacks came together out of a love of Guinness. The stout of strength is a good enough reason to stay together when the music is alive.

“We had no rehearsal, no vision,” said Coyle. “We just fell together, calling out Charlie Parker tunes, or cowboy songs. Half the fun is taking songs from

everywhere. The only unifying component is whether or not it holds deep appeal for us. We’re all very much of the same mind.”

Which is a statement in and of itself, taking into account five men who have seen a lot of different scenes in their days: Coyle has emceed killer whale shows, done stand-up comedy and played with a variety of acoustic groups. According to his bio, lead guitarist/mandolinist James Nash squandered his youth playing the devil’s music. He picked up the mandolin and rediscovered his Southern roots (and righteousness) frequenting middle Tennessee bluegrass festivals with his father. Chojo Jacques (fiddle, mandolin, guitar, Humanatone, vocals)didn’t want to learn the piano or viola as a tyke, opting for the guitar. He soon realized there was more work for fiddlers than guitarists, and off he went. Raised on his father’s jazz collection, Joe Kyle JR. (upright bass, vocals) attempted a checkered college career before he bought his first double bass in 1990. Drummer Chuck Hamilton has played everything from sacred orchestral music to honky-tonk blues.

As the Waybacks, the musicians play a wide variety of genres, from rag time to faux gospel (they call it agnostic gospel) to celtic to bluegrass to jazz. It’s

a big mix, with big sound. These days, they perform mostly originals, such as “Lickkus Interruptus” and “Turkish Stalemate.” Their follow-up album is titled “Burger After Church.”

Coyle describes their first album as more of a cocktail feel, and their second as a fuller, more aggressive sound.

“I think the Waybacks, along with Blue String later on, will be the sleeper shows of the season,” said Justin Hurley, owner of the Half Moon Saloon.

The San Francisco-based quintet will be playing tonight at the Moon at 10. For more information call the saloon at 476-4314.

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