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Evolving Heathens

Band of Heathens w/ Colin Brooks
Band of Heathens w/ Colin Brooks

One of the most fun things about Sam Bond’s is how, from time to time, acts that usually play the likes of SXSW or Austin City Limits swoop in, and Eugeneans get a taste of what it is to live in a live music mecca. That’s what will happen Sunday when Band of Heathens returns to the Whiteaker bar that’s small in scale but big at heart.

Band of Heathens’ most recent studio album, Top Hat Crown & the Clapmaster’s Son, makes clear just how wide a range of influences and energy levels the band can draw from. Tracks like opener “Medicine Man” thump with a strong dose of blues and jam band, but ballads such as “Gris Gris Satchel” show how the Heathens shine when stripped down. It’s the same strength of lyrics and artistic skill that made 2009’s One Foot in the Ether a breakout success.

Since Band of Heathens last swung through Eugene in September 2011, the rootsy country rock act has undergone a major change. After the release of the band’s latest album, The Double Down — Live in Denver, founding member Colin Brooks left the band. While the loss of a principle singer-songwriter might crush a band with less depth, Band of Heathens was founded when Brooks and singer-songwriters Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist started collaborating in 2006, so the Heathens still have vocal and songwriting talent to spare.

Almost a year later, what will be most interesting is how the band is evolving without Brooks. Earlier albums and performances thrived on more than singing and songwriting talent. What made the band’s earlier incarnation especially distinctive was how it could pull from so many traditions, from country to rock to blues to funk, simultaneously, emphasizing different sounds at different moments. No doubt veteran performers Jurdi and Quist, together with bandmates Richard Millsap (drums), Ryan Bowman (bass) and Trevor Nealon (keyboards), will continue to create stellar material, but it will be interesting to see how the formula of different genres changes with the different formula of songwriters and band members. 

Band of Heathens plays 8:30 pm Sunday, Aug. 26, at Sam Bond’s, 407 Blair Blvd., www.sambonds.com; $5.