The Weber Brothers with the Bebop Cowboys , Jenny Whiteley and Matt Masters as part of the Hometown Country Jubilee #3 at Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas West), tonight (Thursday, August 12). $10. 416-588-0307. Rating: NNNNN
I hate the Weber Brothers. Granted, it's a hatred totally based on jealousy, but it's one any self-respecting music fan can appreciate. Just shy of 25, the two brothers are living a rock 'n' roll reality that's better than most folks' rock star fantasies. Raised in a suburb of Baltimore and weaned on pre-70s rock, Sam and Ryan Weber had barely honed their guitar chops - and weren't even in a band- when they shot off a demo tape to their hero Ronnie Hawkins in early 2000.
Hawkins was so impressed by their tape that he invited the Weber boys up to his farm to hang out for a week and play some tunes. Nothing came of it, but when they called their pal Hawkins a few months later, he caught them off guard with the news that he had work for them.
"We came up thinking we were just going to be in the band right off the bat, but he started us off in what he called his 'boot camp' - 90 days of farmwork," offers guitarist Sam. "I didn't play a note. I lived in his barn, Ryan was in a trailer, and we did about eight hours of work on the farm every day. He expected us to practise music on our own time.
"But sure enough, just as Ronnie said, he let us sit in on rehearsals after the 90 days came and went, and then we were Hawks."
No small feat, considering the original Hawks (Hawkins' backing band) became the Band, and membership, as they say, has its privileges. Chief among these for the brothers was sharing the stage with Band icons Garth Hudson and Levon Helm during a Massey Hall gig in October of 2002.
"That show was special," says Sam. "With every Ronnie show, rumours go around - you know, like the Band's gonna reunite onstage, Joni Mitchell will be there, Neil Young's showin' up. It's usually just hype. But then we got to play at Massey Hall with some of them, and it was a definite shock."
The story up to this point may sound like the best movie Cameron Crowe never made. But with their bandleader getting on in years, the Hawks only had gigs about once a month, and the ambitious Weber weeds realized they needed to spend more time playing to crowds.
"It's been about six months since we played with Ronnie. But we've been playing a few nights a week as the Weber Brothers, and it's going great," explains lead singer and older brother Ryan.
"I love Peterborough and have no plans to leave any time soon. The people here are great. Ronnie calls Canada the Promised Land, and from our experiences so far, I'd have to agree."
They've almost finished the follow-up to their independently released debut, 149 Lake Street, and have added a horn section, broadening their musical horizons. Recorded in three hours, Lake Street captures the spirit and sound of the boys' mentors in the Band, so much so that you'd think another reel of the Basement Tapes had been unearthed. The new songs, while similar, boast tighter arrangements, and there's a newfound confidence in Ryan's vocals and Sam's riffs.
The Webers' live shows mix up old-time covers with a slew of originals. Just as Garth Hudson's keyboard work brought added oomph to the Band, Ryan feels their keyboardist, Shai Peer, is the Webers' secret weapon.
"He's phenomenal. His work on our albums really fleshed out our sound, and live he puts us over the top."
Just don't expect any White Stripes covers any time soon. Although the 300-plus songs in their repertoire cover everyone from Hank Williams to the Band, it may seem odd that the 20-something rockers (Ryan, the eldest, is a mere 24) have nary a contemporary tune in their arsenal. Nevertheless, their originals sound fresh while staying true to an aesthetic that's equal parts Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan.
"Honestly, I have no interest in new music," 21-year-old Sam firmly states. "For me, it started with the Beatles, and I went back from there. I'm more of a Blue Suede Shoes kinda guy. I can play that stuff all day long."