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Keelhaul: Cuckoo for Caca

“I’m a grown man; I should stop talking about poop so much.”

Will Scharf has little filter between what he thinks and what comes out of his mouth. It’s endearing, sometimes shocking, and occasionally filled with the wisdom only 20 plus years on the road provides. At other times, however, it could use a mouthful of soap. After I text Scharf that I have arrived at the venue, his response is, “Ok in john on potty”. First impressions may not be too important to a guy who calls it like he sees it, especially when what he sees is often covered in shit.

Scharf and I have brief exchanges while he “sets up the store”, which is filled with their last two records on CD and vinyl, Scharf’s old band Craw’s music, show posters, shirts, hoodies, and trucker hats. The price of the hat? Scharf asks Russian Circles’ merch guy standing next to him: “Dude, how much would you pay for this?”

The merch guy responds, “Oh, I don’t know. I guess $20?”

“Sounds good to me”. I imagine the price changes every time they play.

. . .

“Glorious Car Activities”

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The band’s image and ethos are working class. Keelhaul are a meat-and-potatoes kind of progressive metal band. No over-the-top frills, no goofball theatrics, no crazy instrumentation or effects. The only pedal between each of the guitars and the amps is a tuner (and sometimes an overdrive.) Keelhaul put up with enough bullshit just trying to get out on tour that they don’t feel the need to cover their music with it.

Later Scharf runs into a fan who walked into the show wearing a Keelhaul shirt (the one that’s like Ride the Lightning‘s cover but with a corn dog on it) and he says with a smile, “That’s a gay ass shirt, dude. Who sold you that gay shit?” Again, endearing and shocking, but completely authentic.

The four dudes in Keelhaul look like individuals your Dad would employ to watch the warehouse. They are laid-back guys who have been around and like to hang out. The grey beards suggest they’re around 40. They tour only when they’ve saved enough money to keep their homes from being foreclosed, and only when bigger bands allow them to piggyback on their larger draws. They aren’t sure why they do it at all.

“It’s either love or basic stupidity”, Scharf explains. “If we were smart and had any financial prudence at all, we wouldn’t do it. When we’re not active, it’s like ‘Oh, life is cool. I have money. It’s mellow. I’m not all stressed out.’ But at the same time, we all have the bug. To anybody that plays this stuff, it’s like a weird affliction. ‘Oh, I gotta play!'”

. . .

Photo by Adam Bubolz

. . .

Keelhaul’s affliction is apparent on stage. Scharf doesn’t play the drums; he fights them. The only way to beat the bug is to beat it to death. His fury propels the band headfirst into songs as though unconcerned or unaware of whomever they trample. Scharf’s playing is so unbridled and chaotic, it seems like everything will fly off the rails at any moment.

The rest of Keelhaul aren’t as animated, yet are just as compelling to watch. Aaron Dallison’s fingers may move as quickly on the bass as Scharf’s limbs on the drums, but his expression is that of a stone cold killer. Guitarist Dana Embrose could easily be confused for a blues guitarist: closing his eyes, pursing his lips, going weak at the knees while conjuring a bittersweet melody. He more resembles the subtle sexuality of Hendrix than the overt masculinity of metal guitarists. His bug is assuaged with sweet, tender loving.

If Chris Smith has the bug at all, he doesn’t show it. The hulking guitarist’s expression never changes. He seems perfectly content on stage or laying back, drinking a beer. But I imagine if you forced him, he’d admit he suffers from the compulsion to play – just like the rest of the band.

— Chase Macri

. . .

See Chase’s interview with Keelhaul here.

. . .

KEELHAUL – US TOUR 2010 W /RUSSIAN CIRCLES & CALL ME LIGHTNING
Remaining dates

10/25 San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
10/26 Portland, OR @ Rotture
10/27 Seattle, WA @ Neumos
10/29 Boise, ID @ The Venue
10/30 Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
10/31 Denver, CO @ Marquis Theatre
11/2 Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room
11/03 Columbia, MO @ MOJOs
11/04 Indianapolis IN @ Locals Only
11/05 Columbus, OH @ Ravari Room
11/06 Ann Arbor, MI @ Blind

. . .

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