Firewater image by Tom Mohrman

Firewater is a code word. You mention the band to the right people in the right conversations and suddenly you are also talking about Django Reinhardt and Howling Wolf and the Specials. You are talking about Rancid, and sea shanties, and how all of the songs that make you happiest are about murder and tragedy. Firewater draws from the common ancestor of all the music that’s both cathartic and celebratory. Frontman Tod A sings with a soothingly abrasive voice that meets you in the alleyway and steals your wallet, and the band is composed of virtuoso musicians who demand a response from the audience.

It was a perfect fit to have the Bad Things open for them this past Monday, the first day of the scariest month, October. “Enough about break-ups. Let’s get back to death,” Jimmy the Pickpocket said to the audience. This is the second time that the Bad Things have opened up for Firewater. After this show… I just wish they were on tour together. Every city should get to see this combo.

All of the best Bad Things songs are sing-alongs about shifty characters and foul deeds. Jimmy shouts from behind his accordion, Mad Wilcox slaps the strings of his upright bass so hard you think they might break, banjo and mandolin and trumpet melodies play a game of tag, and the set isn’t even half over. They played their hearts out Monday night, and when Firewater came out next, things got really amazing.

the Bad Things image by Tom Mohrman

Tod A is a mess of sweat and wrinkles on stage and looks like he needs a cigarette. Each song sounds like his throat is bleeding, but it’s all part of how Firewater works. It doesn’t hurt to have expert musicians on stage with you. There were two drummers; one was behind a kit, and one was on hand percussion. Two drummers is often a good idea. One of the instruments that the auxiliary percussionist played was a two sided drum native to the Indian subcontinent called a Dhol. He wore it with a strap, and strutted around the stage, and even into the audience, bringing yet another musical tradition into the mix.

The trombone player was also pretty incredible. At times he and Tod A were both using delay pedals, and the trombone player was harmonizing with his delayed parts. When he’s not doing this, I assume he’s inventing time machines. Oh, and for the record, it was really nice to hear a guitar solo again. I’d forgotten they can be awesome.

Firewater played two encores Monday night. Both times when they came out, the obvious happiness that they wore on their faces was reflected in the shouts and applause that brought them back. One of their last songs was a personal favorite. ‘Bourbon and Division’ off of the album Get off the Cross, we Need the Wood for the Fire. Cabaret drama, and then a drunken, dancing frolic of a song that you never want to end. Don’t miss Firewater when they roll into town like a circus manned by old punks. They’ll burn your city to the ground.


Culture Review: Firewater and the Bad Things at the Crocodile