It was unusually warm for being two days after Thanksgiving. All the way down to the Spacebar, I saw scarlet-clad fans celebrating Ohio State’s win over hated rival Michigan.
Inside the venue was no different. It helped that a couple of campus bands were playing that night, including The Holy Rattlesnakes. The boys in the band are no strangers to sports fandom, and they were pumped about the Buckeyes sixth consecutive victory in the rivalry game.
“How ’bout them Buckeyes?” yelled guitarist and lead singer Matt Baugher as we sat down to chat.
As it turns out, they’re all big hockey fans as well, which definitely scores points with the Music in Motion Columbus team, except that drummer Ethan Dent is a Capitals fan….
“But he’s from DC, so we give him a pass,” added lead guitarist Jacob Essenmacher.
I chatted with the boys before the show and learned that Essenmacher and Baugher had been playing together since 2012, while the current quartet (joined by Dent and bassist Taylor Harris) has been playing together for a little over a year at this point. Their influences vary from The Smiths to The Smashing Pumpkins, although their egos aren’t quite that attuned.
“I mean, sure I want to be as big of a jerk as those guys…,” joked Baugher.
I found them to be quite an amicable group of gentlemen, but I had to know how they had chosen their name. They explained that it was somewhat of an ironic gesture, and not meant to be taken religiously.
“It’s really not a long story,” says Essenmacher. “We had heard stories about these Southern Baptist churches where the preachers would dance outside and occasionally get bitten by these rattlesnakes they were dancing with.
“I figure, anyone who I dumb enough to be dancing with snakes probably deserves to be bitten!” laughed Baugher, “and so the name was born.”
Opening the night were the quirky percussive quartet Embers of Arson, who had a huddle of fans seated on the floor in front of the stage during their performance. Finishing the night were The Cartographers, who mixed a sound of Something Corporate and The Swift. The Holy Rattlesnakes brought a very clean setup, unencumbered by expansive pedal boards or humongous amps.
They opened the set with Devil Ray, which Baugher announced might be better titled as Man Ray. The song had a soft opening and groovy feel between the four of them, as both guitarists sang throughout the song. The band brought a good amount of noise, yet all four instruments were able to breathe and seek out their own powerful sound.
Cannonball featured Essenmacher on vocals playing a very jazzy/proggy opening line. The guitars seemed a bit out of sync during this number, but the band made up for it with Better Than The Movies, which was a slower ballad that had the people around me dancing with one another. “Because everything is better at the movies!” announced Baugher.
Dent picked up the tempo and slammed through a cover of The Clash’s Janie Jones. Baugher may not have sounded anything like Joe Strummer, but the band did a great job at staying true to the 80’s punk sound. It was probably the fastest I saw Dent and Harris move the entire evening.
The boys surprised us all with a cover of Vampire Weekend’s Diplomat’s Son next. If you’ve never heard it before, it’s a six-minute synth-driven song with Ezra Koenig’s signature wail featured heavily. It definitely was not the type of song you’d expect a band like The Holy Rattlesnakes to play, but they absolutely turned it into their own gem, inserting a heavy dose of adrenaline and speed into the mix, while cutting the playing time in half.
“We love to play originals, but covers are a lot of fun,” explained Essenmacher. “I honestly think that was the first cover we ever did together. Any time we’re unsure about a set, we know we can count on being able to do that one.
“I was just messing around on my porch one day with my acoustic, and I realized that I could absolutely make the chords work,” added Baugher.
Even more surprisingly, the band called on bassoonist Evan Copeland, aka “Dr New Orleans” to join them for Star of Symmetry. It was a slower piece with Baugher singing, and Copeland absolutely added to the astronomical ambiance with his soothing playing on the track.
The band kept their sound fresh throughout the evening with no one song sounding quite at all like any of the others. Shark Attack was another quick two-minute number with heavy drums and bouncy guitars, and the band finished on Newer Testament, a song that they had never played before. Baugher informed us all that he had a dream where his neighbor made him join a cult, and he was so shaken up by the dream that he ended up writing this song to get it out of his head. It was a frantic and scary song that once again had the crowd swaying and dancing to the beat.
The band told me that they chose to cover The Clash because their next show is “Clash-a-Thon” on Friday at Victory’s Live. Baugher also said that with any given show, the band might sound completely different.
“We definitely like to keep it fresh. I like to play open-mic shows and test out new ideas for our live performances. That’s where the bassoon came from! You never know what we might find next!”
I would definitely be interested in seeing that kind of show again. It was nice to meet a band that plays serious music without taking themselves too seriously.
- Devil Ray
- Better Than The Movies
- Janie Jones (The Clash cover)
- Diplomat’s Son (Vampire Weekend cover)
- Star of Symmetry (featuring Dr New Orleans)
- Shark Attack
- Newer Testament
Ed. – The Holy rattlesnakes are playing a benefit show at Kafé Kerouac (Sat, Dec 2nd), raising money for a dog shelter.