Alpha Rev at the 9:30 Club

Alpha Rev, the rockers from Austin, Texas, perform at DC's 9:30 Club. Photo: Alpha Rev

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2013 — For all intents and purposes, Alpha Rev is Casey McPherson’s band. When they took the stage at the 9:30 Club during their recent appearance here, the spotlight was clearly on McPherson during the entire set. He is not only the main constant of this band, he is the driving force behind their live show and sound.

The band initially formed in Austin, Texas. On the surface, the main influence on their sound seems to be derived from that region. On closer inspection though, Alpha Rev’s sound seems to have more general roots in Southern rock, and does not necessarily have the distinctive feel of the southwest musical culture. Their brand of homespun rock feels laid back and folksy rather than gritty.

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Initially, it would appear that Alpha Rev infused their rock sound with a touch country, but there seems to be something of a twang in nearly everything McPherson and the rest of the band plays. It is the type of sound that would feel right at home in Nashville, as well as points further south east. There also seems to be a lack of edginess to Alpha Rev’s sound as well. It is the kind of music that a musician or band would play when it is too hot and humid for the audience to get overly active, preferring instead to simply enjoy the atmosphere. 

Certain bands are able to capture a region so fundamentally that it becomes difficult to disassociate them from that region. Even if the band does not necessarily come from that specific region, they can so encapsulate it with a selection of songs that they can become almost mythical. A given song can set off cues within the audience that set a specific regional atmosphere. The feeling is not like nostalgia, but it is a close cousin, impressing upon the listener certain ideals that bring out the best of the land and the band.

This is exactly the kind of band Alpha Rev is, and it is easy to assume front man Casey McPherson is angling for this kind of effect during the band’s entire set. The way that the band carefully avoids pressing direct buttons, the way they move through their songs at a generally leisurely pace, everything they do feels measured in a way that makes the audience want to breathe in the music and never move too fast and furious.

Alpha Rev is very specific in the way that they play but nothing sticks out in a general sense, aside from the overall sense of a Southern rock sound the band appreciates.  The drums keep this even tempo throughout, while the keys have this sense of atmosphere to them rather than anything being played specifically. 

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You might even think this band’s sound is carefully measured if the band did not actually play with a certain good old boy charm throughout their set. This is the influence of McPherson, who emotes humility and affection in each of his songs. He projects an idealized version of a good old southern guy, loaded with down-home charm and an easygoing kind of humility. That gives the band’s songs an extra sense of conviction and immediacy in spite of their seemingly laid-back nature.

Alpha Rev still puts out a bit of a Southwest vibe. It is not always obvious, but it comes out through subtle musical hints here and there. Unlike their affinity for Southern rock, though, it is a side that never really stands out. The overall impression they present lies within the laid-back charm they bring to their live set, such as their recent 9:30 Club performance. It is something that bridges the varying ideas of rock as it travels across the vast reaches of the American south.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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