What a way to start my ACL 2018 experience. I arrived in Austin’s Zilker Park just in time to catch the set by Canadian rockers Reignwolf. Theirs was one of the sets I was most looking forward to seeing and I have to tell you; I was not disappointed.
I first caught Jordan Cook and his band at Stubb’s Indoors back in 2014. Anyone familiar with this offshoot of the larger Stubb’s Amphitheater knows that it’s small, tight, and cramped. Reignwolf easily packed the place and proceeded to blow everyone’s mind with a no-holds-barred performance that at one point saw Cook dragging the drums into the dense, sweaty crowd and accompanying himself while he screamed and sang, all while playing amazingly chaotic and soulful guitar.
Here, in 2018, not much has changed. Taking the stage with a wry smile amid buzzsaw guitar riffing and stunted feedback, Cook launched into “Lonely Sunday.” Bassist Stacey-James Kardash and drummer Joseph Braley held a steady rhythm while cook proceeded to physically beat his black Gibson into submission. His guitar work was a combination of soulful bends, chordal thrashing, and percussive beats.
While his microphone started in the mic stand, it didn’t stay there. Cook has no use for such conventional equipment. He used the mic as an extension of himself, wrapping the cord around his neck when he needed his right hand for playing and even using it as a “pick,” scraping at and bouncing it off the strings of his guitar. When the mic was in its stand, it rarely stayed in place, mostly just hanging down as Cook distorted his body to sing into it.
When they played ACL Fest in 2013, Reignwolf played on a much smaller platform. This time they played the gargantuan Honda Stage. While it was a great size for the crowd they drew, it was way too big for the intimacy that the band craves. “Is it OK if we come closer?” Cook asked. “I feel so damn far away today, and I don’t like it!” And with that, he dragged the drum kit to the stage’s edge. Cook and Kardash played in a tight cluster down front, bouncing back and forth from the photo pit to the lip of the stage, all in an effort to be with the audience.
Cook is a wildman. He plays his blues-based lines with pure abandon. The sounds emanating from his flailing fingers range from percussive staccato chords laced with feedback to powerful rock and blues melodies. He plays a simultaneous combination of lead and rhythm. Cook is not a technical player but instead relies on emotion which more than makes up for any sloppiness. And he is a showman. A highlight of his set is when he takes over the drumkit and performs solo, stomping on the kick drum to keep time while grinding out the rhythm and lead on his guitar and singing into the mic draped around his neck.
Whenever I get discouraged with today’s over-processed, autotuned music, I am thankful for bands like Reignwolf. They get it. Emotion over technicality. Passion over fashion. This is Rock and Roll.