There is little as invigorating as a night of pure rock and roll and Rick Barton’s Continental brought the goods to the Tralf on Friday night. The venue has been fallow recently, putting up a show or two a month, but recently has doubled-down on showcasing some amazing national indie acts. Opener, The Barksdales, played melodic punk in the vein of very early Goo Goo Dolls or early 90’s Long Island/NYC bands like Weston. It was well played, hit all of the right spots, and songs rarely overstayed their welcome. That was the good. The bad? Well, the guitar was mixed too low in the mix (and lacked any real low end – perhaps the result of furiously down-stroking barre chords on a Gibson hollow-body?) and there was something kinda suspect about a band that has only been around on the scene for just more than year playing “punk” through Orange amps and ribbon mics (and the less said about the drummer’s wireless headset mic, the better!) The set-up looked more befitting a vintage rockabilly combo, one that had logged some miles and earned the right to use that kind of equipment. Again, well-played but an odd contrast.
Rick Barton’s newish combo, Continental, on the other hand oozed sincerity and authenticity. Despite being plagued with a bum amp through the opening duo of brand new songs (which still sounded amazing despite the lack of Barton’s trademark chug….and way to step up and loan an amp and guitar, Barksdales!), Continental played a tight and passionate set of new and classic tunes. Barton’s voice, sounding like a street version of Nick Lowe, has never been as supple and his time as front man has helped hone his instrument. More than capably backed by son Stephen on bass, a phenomenal 19-year old drummer and shit-hot lead guitarist (whose tasteful leads were equal parts Billy Zoom and Mike Ness), the band sound much hungrier live than on record and played with a tightness that belies the members’ ages. It’s clear that Barton runs a tight ship (being lead on a painting crew as a dayjob for 33 years will instill that type of discipline), and the attention to detail has paid off – songs started and stopped on a dime and the playing crackled without being unnecessarily flashy.
None of this would matter, however, if the songs weren’t any good, but Barton has always been an intuitive and sympathetic writer and he has lived enough life to imbue his songs with sincerity and honesty. Standouts like album lead “Curious Spell” and “Wrecking Ball” from their debut ep were more muscular in their live incarnations, but Barton went straight for the heart and gut by digging out perhaps the best track he ever wrote with the Dropkicks, “The Torch”. Perhaps it’s the passing of time or simply living in an underdog Rust Belt town , but the song (always emotional) took on a mythic quality and the combination of Barton’s chords and voice made this grown man crumble. And that is the true measure of art…does it make you feel something? In his matter-of-fact and own unassuming way, Barton’s Continental were able to answer that with a resounding yes. No encores, no frills, but full hearts and honest songs…thanks, gents, for giving it your all! (And you have to respect any performer who personally goes and thanks each attendee in the audience and passes out band stickers...a true class act...)
P.S. Rick was generous enough to speak with me after the show at length about the group, his relationship with his son, and his life. Stay tuned for the full interview!