Punk rock’s Riverboat Gamblers are something to behold. Singer Mike Wiebe is a feral animal stalking the stage, jumping into the crowd and climbing any available rafters, exposed piping or speaker cabinets while his bandmates rip through high-energy, melodically charged garage sound.
They’ve built a reputation for furious performances, but their LPs have inconsistently captured that live energy.
“There’s some really out-there songs on the last record for sure,” Wiebe said. “I think we’re trying to narrow in on the vibe for this new record we’re working on now. I feel good about trying something a bit grittier, which is what we’re going to try to do with the next full-length.”
They’re fortunate to have made it this far. Over 15 years, the band has gone through enough guitarists and drummers to rival Spinal Tap. Prior to 2009’s “Underneath the Owl,” founding bassist Pat Lillard called it quits, and Wiebe got divorced.
But the Gamblers returned rededicated, and even earned props from Bruce Springsteen, who called Wiebe one of the hardest-working men in show biz.
These days, Wiebe feels even better equipped to deal with the everyday trouble and strife of being in a band.
“I’ve kind of learned to be a little more Zen about it. I used to obsess about the band … just getting really stressed out about a lot of decisions,” he said. “I kind of realized the thing that works best is to keep working the best you can, but also to realize there’s a lot of shit that’s just out of control, that what happens is going to happen the way it’s going to happen.”
For example, after expressing dissatisfaction with their label, Volcom, Riverboat Gamblers patched the relationship and will return for their forthcoming sixth album next spring. Wiebe feels everyone’s on the same page now, and is heartened by the work Volcom did promoting “Owl.” Despite complaints in the blogosphere, the disc was one of their best-selling albums.
“You can overthink it … but that’s what happened,” he said. “We’re still here, and things are going pretty good right now.”
Wiebe is extremely excited to be touring alongside Off with Their Heads and Dead to Me. Those groups helped out when Gamblers guitarist Fadi el-Assad’s mother was injured in a car accident, and he had to return home for a week earlier in the tour. The other acts’ guitarists filled in, further cementing the tourmates’ bond.
“It’s like the tour of the summer I’d like to see. Those are my two favorite punk-rock bands stateside. They’re fucking awesome,” Wiebe said. “And we’re all really good friends, so it’s been really fun. We’re always jumping up onstage and helping out on each other’s stuff.”
Photo by Gary Copeland