Last Night: Legends of Rodeo Reunion at Propaganda, July 10

Legends of Rodeo
With Richard Sherfey, Sweet Bronco, Mike Dunn and the Kings of New England, Miracle Strip
Propaganda, Lake Worth
Saturday, July 10, 2010

For most dissolved bands, eight years changes each member too much to allow them to reunite as a forceful unit that does credit to memory. People lose track of one another, people put down their instruments, and people catch babies. Life's emphasis shifts from creativity to mundane concerns, and once-hopeful rock stars start to blend into the masses of those who never pursued a dream. This is not the case with Palm Beach-based foursome Legends of Rodeo.

Though there was nostalgia in the air last Saturday night when Legends reunited before a crowd of 120-plus fans to perform songs from its heyday in the late '90s and early '00s -- as well as to distribute never-released recordings and unload paraphernalia -- the past was embraced with glib nods to the giddiness of youth rather than attempts to recapture some glory that had passed them by. The band's members, three of whom currently play together in the eight-piece local band Invisible Music, are still trim as they were in their early 20s, but all possess much higher musical powers. Invisible Music plays a more evolved version of the countrified rock that dominates Legends' set but fills out the sound with pedal steel guitar, violin, percussion, and lush female vocals. Bassist Steven Eshelman does not play with Invisible Music but can occasionally be seen with the Keith Michaud-fronted Summer Blanket.

After well-received performances by Athens-based singer Richard Sherfey and local rock band Sweet Bronco, the sonic main course was served around 11 p.m. Frontman John Ralston, who admitted to being a little nervous before the show because it'd been so long since they'd played these songs, kicked into the set with little fanfare: "Hey, we're Legends of Rodeo. Thanks for coming out." Drummer Jeff Snow started driving the rock behind "Hold on Nothing," which got Ralston's head banging and guitarist Nathan Jezek and bassist Steven Eshelman wagging their axes and bobbing in time. The crowd's enthusiasm grew throughout the set, starting with slight head-bobbing and a few high-pitched "woos" and ending with an all-out dance and clap-along.

Midset, Dan Bonebrake, a member of Invisible Music (who's pairing up sleek sideswept bangs and black-rimmed glasses with a bushy Amish beard these days) took the bass from Eshelman's hands to play a song called "City of Broken Dreams" with Legends. "He planned this halfway through the set," Bonebrake says of Eshelman, "so he could take a break and get a drink."

As Eshelman exits the stage, Ralston points at his Legends-era shirt and says, "He has had that shirt since I've known him. I also had this shirt, but it used to be bigger on me." He comments on the music. "I forgot all of these lyrics, and I pushed them out of my head, and now I feel like I'm a teenaged boy."

Despite one man's drunken request for "less talkie, more rocky," the switch-up turns into an opportunity for Legends to break from the music and have a personal chat with the crowd at the nonsmoking show. The clean air permitted three of the band members' pregnant wives to bask in the sounds of yesteryear without subjecting their fetuses to toxic fumes. Though these ladies may be a little encumbered about the waist these days, Legends' better halves do not typically stick to the sidelines. Violinist Susan Sherouse, married to drummer Jeff Snow, and percussionist Tiffany Jezek, Nathan's gal, play in Invisible Music with their husbands and Ralston.

Ralston jokes about his own soon-to-be baby. "Nathan's having a girl, Jeff's having a boy. We don't know yet which one it's going to be. A friend of mine said, 'Maybe it'll be both.'"

The stripped-down lineup brought to the spotlight the showmanship and dancing talent of lean brunet guitarist and vocalist Nathan Jezek. Who could tell from watching Invisible Music, in which all of the smiling band members blend together in one happy mass of hippified bliss, that Jezek possesses slick Brit pop-caliber moves? No one.

Opener Richard Sherfey, who played bass with Legends of Rodeo on one tour, took the frontman slot for a number called "Bartender," and Ralston happily relinquished it and sat down, Indian-style, to play his guitar. Propaganda promoter Steve Rullman looked on with a smile and commented, "It's like 1995 all up in here -- well, maybe 1997. I've booked them more than I've booked any other band."

Legends attempted to close its set with a song called "1995," which got the whole crowd singing along, but shouts for "one more song" urged them on to perform "Nothing Better to Do." As Legends concluded its set, a clap-along started onstage and spread throughout the club as fans in the front, arm-in-arm, rocked back and forth like gingerbread men while pumping their fists in the air. Seriously.

Those who stuck around for the closing act, the plaid-clad Orlando-based foursome Mike Dunn and the Kings of New England, got a hearty dose of driving rock 'n' roll and superb showmanship. Dunn's oratory skills match his shredding. Before he closed his set with a well-received Joe Cocker-style cover of "With a Little Help from My Friends," he summed up the night best by relating a story from the old days: "We were excited because we were playing Will's Pub [an Orlando music venue] with a band called Legends of Rodeo. As you get older, it always seems like, 'This is the year I'm quitting music.' You got to give that shit up 'cause with guys like us, we can't stop playing."

-- Courtney Hambright