Jack Rentfro and the Apocalypso Quartet at Preservation Pub

Jack Rentfro, Preservation Pub,(with Laith Keilany)

A performance by Jack Rentfro and his ace band the Apocalypso Quartet is difficult to articulate to an uninitiated audience. Apparently initially encouraged by the late, beloved Phil Pollard, Jack rips his way through spoken word apocalyptic verses as the front-man for the quartet, which has always included more than four members when I’ve seen them. On this recent night there were five including Nate Barrett on drums and percussion, Bob Deck on guitar, Mike Murphy on bass, Laith Keilany on various stringed instruments and Cecilia Miller on cello.

Cecilia Miller foreground with Jack Rentfro

I slipped inside Preservation Pub and walked up to the speakeasy about 7:00, only to find they didn’t start until 8:00 which, for regular readers of this blog will come as no surprise. Still, not bad. I was able to catch the first set and walk back home before 10:00. As usual, the crowd was smaller than the music called for, but everyone there,which seemed to include some tourists seated near me, enjoyed the show.

Jack Rentfro and the Apocalypso Quartet, Preservation Pub, Knoxville

Jack will never be accused of being an optimist and his poetry is decidedly dark, pessimistic and generally enunciates the coming damnation and ruin. Yes, I’m exaggerating – by a very little bit. It is also hilariously funny and clever, but always intellectually challenging. His recounting of the personal foibles of the various presidents, which he touted as his early nod to Presidents’ Day would not likely be included in any official Washington presentation of the day. The man brings a fine intellect, a jaded, slightly skewed view of the world to every piece

Jack Rentfro, Preservation Pub, Knoxville 2012

The musicians behind him are all excellent. Nate Barrett also plays with Hudson K, but seems to find his way to a drum kit behind many local artists – particularly those whose music is just a tad eccentric. Laith Keilany and Cecilia Miller also find their way onto the stage with many different artists. I’ve seen Laith with Jodie Manross and Cecilia with R.B. Morris among others.

Jack Rentfro and the Apocalypso Quartet, Knoxville, February 2012

The sound is jazzy. Then it’s not. It’s funk, it’s R and B, it’s country and rock and roll. It is whatever the poem demands and it amazes me that without the more common structure of a song they are able to find the groove required for each piece and play it in perfect form. If they were casting about for endings or struggling to ride the wave of the words, I couldn’t tell.

Jack leans into it, Preservation Pub, Knoxville

Try to find them near wherever you are. I think they are playing the Well soon, if they haven’t already and I hope to hear them downtown, again, soon. Next time I hear them it will be with my new camera and here’s hoping the pictures are better.

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