REVIEW: 600 lbs of Sin at Casa Cantina

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600 lbs of Sin. Quite an intimidating band name. Frightening, even.

I have to admit, I imagined a gang of leather-bound axe-wielders, following in the metallic tradition of Black Sabbath. I even wondered if I should bring earplugs to this show, having had my ears left ringing one too many times by bands with threatening monikers.

Well, they've got the loud part down. But doom and gloom? Darkness and despair? Nowhere to be found.

Much to my surprise, what I found when I walked into Casa Cantina Friday night was country-rock, ska-funk, and everything in between. But even if it wasn't dealt in a hefty blow, the pain of sin expressed itself, lending depth to the danceable surface of their songs.

A quick glance at the stage revealed a violin, mandolin, multiple guitars and an impressive array of pedals. The bass player alone had a razor-thin acoustic bass and two electric ones. So much for the electric warriors I had envisioned.

Picking up one of his many weapons of choice, bassist Jon Lavigne instantly endeared himself to me by warming up with the songs playing over the PA, figuring out the bass parts by ear. The drunken singing at the bar contrasted nicely with his spot-on improvisations.

He was able to get through Argent's "Hold Your Head Up" and "Take It to the Limit" by The Eagles before guitarists Mike Pushkin and Josh Thomas and drummer Steve Markle joined in to play a loose Creedence Clearwater Revival-like practice tune.

One of the many distinguishing features of the band is the presence of violin player Libby Eddy, who rarely took center stage but provided Southern textures to the traditional guitar/rhythm section mix.

They began their official set with a song from their new release, Money House Blessing, entitled "Severine." A rollicking, shuffling hoedown sort of tune, it spotlighted Thomas, who played with reserve and taste instead of showboating his obvious skills.

The group's next song continued in the same way, betraying their West Virginian heritage with the loose, syncopated beats. But oddly, the space in front of the stage, usually occupied by slightly tipsy dancers, was empty. Not that the band wasn't playing well, but the first couple of songs gave the impression that this was more of a foot-tapping, rather than a jiving, kind of band.

Then, out of nowhere, the hi-hat taps and staccato guitars demonstrated a quality that had only been vaguely hinted at before: funkiness. Before long, a few groups of patrons ventured onto the floor to move along with the song's chicken scratch-groove.

Thomas turned in yet another remarkable extended solo, effortlessly snatching just the right notes out of the air. He played fast, but had just enough restraint to keep from turning into Eddie Van Halen.

The band moved on to calypso-flavored funk tune before launching into a song called "The Lord Is My Banker and He's Too Big to Fail," with down-home fiddle and gospel harmonies giving it an authentic country flavor.

After exploring the Southern/funk dichotomy further, they took a break and then came back fully acoustic for a few songs, trading in the electric guitar for the mandolin. While they spent most of their four-hour set jamming, the group always took the time to build the framework of a compact song before tearing down its walls.

They closed their set with a cover of Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance," by which point the audience had succumbed to the band's groovy, genre-jumping charms.

The group showed a different kind of sin than the traditional one portrayed by the musical pessimists of the world. Instead of displaying brute force from the outset, the band opted for subtlety, via touches like the pained backing vocals and slow violin strokes. They may have frolicked about and some tongues may have been in cheeks at times, but they backed their act up with substance, a kind that could only have come from talented individuals with the will to express themselves through their music.

In fact, 600 lbs of Sin's set threw in enough subtleties and intelligence, along with a danceable feel, to show that their set was a fairly accurate representation of the human soul, one that defied a compact naming convention like "jam band." And that made for a concert for whose layers couldn't even begin to be scratched by their name alone.