Complexly catchy tunes energize The Bitters


To explain the problem with prog rock, as he sees it, Jeff Murphy coins a new term.

“It’s so wank-ified,” says the guitarist for instrumental power trio The Bitters, sitting outside Madhouse Coffee with his bandmates on a recent Tuesday night, goofing on the music’s tendency to be as self-indulgent as a drunk at an open bar.

Now, The Bitters certainly qualifies as a progressive band.

Murphy, along with bassist Vinny Moncada and Frank Klepacki, are all enviable players fond of unorthodox time signatures and knotty arrangements, their tunes like a scrambled Rubik’s Cube, where the fun is in solving the puzzle.

But at the same time, their songs are concisely written — there’s no noodling here — and they ride a serious groove that makes the band’s dense, tightly honed jams greater than the sum of their many parts.

There’s an immediacy to The Bitters’ catalog, an urgency, and a ferocious swing.

A lot of prog rock doesn’t, in fact, really rock that much at all.

But these dudes do.

“We’re real conscious of not writing our parts just to be a bunch of notes for the sake of a bunch of notes,” says Moncada, a stout man whose speech patterns tend to rival the velocity of his fingers racing up and down the fretboard. “It’s got to make sense. It’s got to feel good.”

Recently, The Bitters put out a fantastic new disc, “Live in Vegas,” recorded at four gigs last spring and summer, that highlights their skill at leavening complexity with catchiness, with songs that are equally bruising and busy and well-suited for some serious air guitar — or air drums or air bass.

To coincide with the album’s release, Murphy has organized Instrumental Fest, a long-gestating idea, that will pair The Bitters with fellow vocal-less, and excellent, Vegas acts Dinner Music For The Gods, Thee Swank Bastards and Fish Leg at Money Plays, 4755 W. Flamingo Road, on Saturday night.

“Because all of these bands are instrumental in nature, we’re almost always billed with other bands that are completely not like us at all,” Klepacki says. “This is an excuse to get us all under one roof and our audiences who appreciate that style of music.”

The Bitters were meant to be seen live, where there’s a palpable sense of spontaneity. Watching the band perform, you don’t always know where the trio is headed — and sometimes, neither do they.

“We try not to have too many preconceived paths,” Moncada says. “We’re not trying to prove how hard the stuff is to play. We play the way that we play because it’s fun.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.