Brent Amaker and the Rodeo Cowboy It Up at Red Room

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It's hard to tell if Seattle-based cowboy crooner Brent Amaker is serious or not. From his band's matching black boots and cowboy hats, to the lit cigarette in the mouth of the electric guitar player—who looked just like the Marlboro Man—to the black mask the acoustic guitar player wore, there were hints of irony everywhere at the Brent Amaker and the Rodeo show at Red Room on June 4.

Even Amaker's lyrics were almost caricatures of Western themes - the sort of thing you'd expect from parody artists.

"I'm the man who sings the songs you love / like your favorite whiskey song or the one about the gun," he crooned in "I'm The Man Who Writes the Country Hits."

But as his baritone voice rumbled over a rolling train beat a la Johnny Cash, it was impossible not to feel it could be homage as much as it was kitsch. The twang and verb of the leads took the sound even further, giving the band a slightly post-apocalyptic country feel, the perfect soundtrack for a gunfight at the end of the world or a yet-to-be-shot Quentin Tarantino spaghetti Western. But that may be because the band's visual presence was so strong and so emotionally anchored, seeing them onstage almost felt like archival footage of the '60s, when nuclear annihilation and cartoonish cowboys dominated the airwaves.

The sound didn't stray much, all train beats and twang (though Amaker does cover "Pocket Calculator," by Kraftwerk). But it worked. More than just rehashing a classic sound, Amaker managed to make it his own while maintaining its appeal.

But the question remains: Is he serious? Answer: I don't know. And in the end, it probably doesn't even matter. Because whether he is or isn't, it's working just fine.

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