Eugene Weekly : Music : 7.2.09

Gypsy Circus Rock

Following in the tradition of Tom Waits’ ramshackle circus train or Gogol Bordello’s gypsy rock is Eugene’s Unkle Nancy, the vision of a songwriter by the name of Joey Stewart. Somewhat a man of mystery, Stewart left his job two years ago to pursue music full time; he’s since discovered a prolific muse and has written thousands of songs. 

And there’s bizarre poetry in Unkle Nancy’s world. It’s wobbly and wonky, crooked and cobbled together from spit and worn out shoe leather, composed of cello, washboard, flute, kazoo, resonator, guitar, banjo and, according to Stewart, “three-part harmonies, profane sing alongs, beatboxin’ chickens, drunken children songs and so much more.” There are songs like “Stumblin’ Drunk,” with a queasy guitar line and girl-done-me-wrong hopelessness. “Don’t Hold Me Down” is a plucky tune about a rambler who just can’t stay in one place too long. Then there’s “Bobby Bumbleton,” with a haunting Waits-ian strangeness. Always, Stewart’s voice seems to be scrubbed with sandpaper. 

In April and May, Unkle Nancy embarked on a “Dance or We Will Fight You!!!” tour of the West Coast. They’re set to release their third CD, Vagabond Tramp, on July 3, followed by another West Coast tour. Looking ahead to the fall, Unkle Nancy will be working with Naima Muntal from Bad Mitten Orchestra on a new project called Dandylion Eyes.

Unkle Nancy plays at 9:30 pm Friday, July 3, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $5. — Vanessa Salvia

Not-So-Wild Horses

A confession: I didn’t believe it when I was told that High Diving Horses are an actual thing. I guess I was just a little too old for Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, the early ’90s Disney movie about a girl who rode horses off a towering platform in Atlantic City. I’m still not quite sure what equines leaping into pools have to do with the music of Danny Allen and Laura Jean Allen — there are no death-defying stunts in their loose-limbed, carefully unpolished songs. 

A band playing toy pianos and guitars, stomping their feet for rhythm and shaking the occasional tambourine might sound like just another night on the rock-slash-Americana circuit. But in the six songs posted to their MySpace account, High Diving Horses offer something with a slightly different tenor, somewhere between jovial ’70s rock and the ominous shudder of Spoon in their gloomier moments. Danny does most of the singing, but Laura Jean pipes up in harmony on “Manifest Destiny” and the charming “Laugh Cry Etc.,” on which that tinkling toy piano and a whistled section turn “You will laugh / You will cry / You will fade away under blue skies” into a promise full of possibility. “Hope All is Well” offers the same juxtaposition of warning and joy: The verses are steeped in regret, the chorus tempered by Laura Jean’s brighter voice. The Horses’ songs are relatively spare and a bit on the familiar side, but somehow, they seem to take up more space than they really ought. You’ll have to catch one of the pair’s shows to see if they can do the same on stage. High Diving Horses play at 8 pm Thursday, July 2, at the Axe & Fiddle, Cottage Grove (free), and with Z Buffalo and The Physical Hearts at 10 pm Friday, July 3, at Luckey’s ($5). Both shows 21+. — Molly Templeton

Do Pass Go, Collect $200

Rocking a banjo, fiddle, guitar and no lyrical filter, the two-man musical experiment Green is for Go has been playing together for five years and building a steady local following, playing more than 80 shows in town over the last year and a half. That’s saying something, given that they’re only 21 years old. 

While the bluegrass/comedy/rock band’s lyrics can be silly and sophomoric (think Tenacious D), the songs are loose, light and fun, with an energetic rock factor that’ll get most up and dancing. For slower, more serious cuts, think Guster with a banjo — a layered, technically impressive acoustic sound. 

Matt Barnhart and Jeff Masterson groove together like a well-oiled machine, unified in their mission of merriment. While their self-deprecating and at times juvenile humor will resonate best with the college crowd, they are undoubtedly a pair of talented young musicians who aren’t afraid to put it all out there. There’s something charming in their lack of pretense, their refusal to take themselves too seriously, and their music seems to be a celebration of all that is young, silly, fast and fun. If for nothing else, come for the free CDs at the release party. Green is For Go play with 45 RPM at 9:30 pm Saturday, July 4, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $5.  — Katie Kalk