17 years later, Lawn Chair Kings still among the greats
They’ve been a great band since Day 1. It was late 2000 or thereabouts when a long-haired teacher at Durango High School approached the then KDUR-Radio music director about his rock band. The band had an upcoming show at the now defunct venue Storyville, which occupied the same space as the now defunct Lost Dog Bar & Lounge, and said teacher was handing out fliers for the show. The KDUR music director, which was me, went to the show. The teacher was Erik Nordstrom, and the band on stage was the Lawn Chair Kings, churning out what was a perfect marriage of punk and country music via a mix of hooky originals and covers, anything from Commander Cody to The Velvet Underground. I’ve been a friend and a fan ever since.
As they move toward their 17th year, they are celebrating the release of their latest album “Virtually Acoustic,” with a performance Saturday at El Rancho.
A short history: Lawn Chair Kings formed around 2000, a rock band showcasing Nordstrom originals and tasty covers. Drummers came and went; additional guitar players came and went, while Nordstrom and bass player Dan Leek played on. Drummer Pat Dressen joined in 2012, Hap Purcell joined on banjo and guitar soon after, then left, then came back when fiddle player Alissa Wolf joined; they’re now a five-piece that can do an on-stage dance between an electric rock ’n’ roll band and acoustic twang. The latest record leans toward bluegrass or hearty folk, yet remains signature Lawn Chair Kings that feature Nordstrom’s lyrical take on trailer parks, and his Rockwellian world of punk rock shows, parties with outlawed lawn darts and cheap, canned beer.
Nordstrom and Leek have dabbled in the acoustic world before; they played a few duo shows as the Sub-bourbon Boys, but the addition of Dressen, who local bluegrass fans may know from The Badly Bent, adds a Levon Helm element as he moves between drums and mandolin.
“What’s neat for me is to have the versatility to be able to play at the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown; when I write songs it’s on acoustic, and it’s natural for me to expand some of my songs into the acoustic format,” said Nordstrom. “I also love to rock ’n’ roll, and I think there are some shows where we’re mainly electric, others times we’re mainly acoustic, and the times we have, like at The Ranch, we’ll do an acoustic set, and we’ll come back with electric. I’ve always liked Neil Young, Uncle Tupelo and those bands that do that hybrid acoustic and electric.”
The five-piece is a new venture. Nordstrom is a music fan, and a good friend to have if you are in pursuit of punk-rock, country or yacht-rock. His and the rest of the band’s knowledge of music, along with their talent, lends itself to their vision. They’re not a half-assed jam band wanking around; they’re not a shitty cover band; I’ll put them right alongside some of the great roots rock bands that write originals and dig into the American indie canon from any genre. It’s a great time to be a fan.
“We’ve been at this for about a year as a five-piece, and having Hap back and Alissa in the band, there’s a lot of rich textures that we’re able to conjure with the band,” said Nordstrom. “It’s exciting for me because I think we’re just on the tip of really getting everything to work.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. firstname.lastname@example.org.