I used to see Sasparilla play monthly on the streets of Portland, Ore., when the band would set up on Southwest 10th Street as part of the First Thursday festivities. Rain or shine, the band was alway there. The dobro-centric trio plinking out old-timey music was, to me, as crucial a component of the event as the art openings.
The Sasparilla that played at Tom Grainey's Oct. 26 looked and talked like the Sasparilla I knew, but sounded like it had stopped off at a crossroads along Interstate 84 to sell its souls to the devil.
The acoustic street instruments like the washboard and washtub bass were supercharged with electric guitar, snarling harmonica and a full drum kit instead of a single bucket. The sound was finished off with bits of accordion, organ and a tambourine playing as viciously as a schoolyard bully that transformed the catchy ragtime swing into a ragged Chicago street-blues stomp that could turn John Lee Hooker's head. Balls out, cut time shoutalongs were the order of the day, and the formerly meek band of street rascals delivered.
Grainey's, not exactly a venue known for its attentive audiences, was on its feet stomping and kicking like a delta speakeasy.
"This is a very nice crowd and we appreciate that," the band announced. "Some audiences are too cool to dance, but not you."
Watching a drum and fiddle duel that made heavy use of the two buckets mounted on the kick in place of toms, it occured to me that blues will never go away. But not every band has what it takes to truly bring them back. Sasparilla is one of those rare bands.