From the opening notes, fuzzy and aggressive through Stella Blue's downstairs sound system, Wooden Toothe plants its feet firmly in the fuzzy-and-aggressive territory between country and punk. Yet this is no country-punk outfit. The quartet, fronted by sprightly bass player Pierce Harmon, nods to both Uncle Tupelo and the Sex Pistols with neither a twang nor a sneer to be found. Instead, it's core of both genres that ultimately prevail: the raw power of instrumentation, vocals and lyrics harnessed within the constraints of tightly crafted three-minute songs

If "poppy garage-rock with a punk edge" seems too complicated a description for what Wooden Toothe performs so effortlessly, such a tag line is probably necessary to explain (if not the music itself) the audience. Not a plaid shirt nor studded belt is to be found—instead this is a crowd of girls in flowered sundresses and guys in plaid Bermudas. It's neither the audience for country or punk (the listeners are as clean-cut as the guys-next-door band) but the group of 60 or so press toward the stage, nodding heads, tapping toes and dancing with PBRs in hand.

The band (including Jeremy Odom on guitar and vocals, drummer Rett Murphy and Jed Willis playing the petite guitar-mandolin hybrid MandoBird) is well rehearsed: Clearly its members place importance on musicianship. But, like Voltaire said, "Perfect is the enemy of good." In that spirit, the live show is underscored by driving percussion and capriciousness over too much polish. Guitar solos wail with unabashed '70s-era finesse, anthemic rockers toe the line between Ramones-esque stomp and Green Day pop-acumen (minus the formulaic songwriting). 

Wooden Toothe maneuvers dexterously between bombastic numbers and slower compositions that allow Harmon to showcase his husky-emotive singing style. "The Stranger," which opens with a series of snare rolls and a insistent bass line, contains many of the band's best elements: the building of intensity that blows wide open with soaring guitar, the sexy rasp of vocals and the coiled energy that renders a song (think Tom Petty's "American Girl") so catchy. In the end, punk and country flavors aside, what Wooden Toothe does best is craft pure, straight-up rock.

Local quintet The Steves opened the show, offering up their own take on unadulterated rock. In fact, so perfect is the group's bar band drill that one listener commented, "It's like you walked into a bar in Panama City in 1995."

Actually, the recent addition of a baritone saxophone lend the Steves (fronted by Los Angeles transplant Hunter Kalman and with, it's worth noting, nary a Steve in the lineup) a shade of the '80s, but that's not a bad thing. After taking a decade and a half away from the distinctive sax sound, that Huey Lewis trademark instrument is now finding its way back into modern music. For the Steves, it's a savvy move, giving distinction to the band's originals and allowing them to pull off covers like The Rolling Stone's "Bitch" (noted for the sax work of Bobby Keyes).

For both bands, the sound quality was best in the farthest corners of the room, but that didn't seems to deter listeners. Kinetic instrumentation and ample charisma kept the audience in close range of the stage.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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