Riverboat Gamblers are an aging band. While this is an inevitability for all bands/people (until we start using age like currency just like that bad ass Justin Timberlake movie), it’s much more apparent in a band like the Gamblers. Frontman Mike Wiebe is known as much for his howling vocals as he is for leaping off things on stage, until he lands himself in the hospital. The rest of the band made a name for themselves for playing fast paced skate rock ‘n' roll. In fact, their 2004 crusher Something to Crow About has more songs under the two-minute mark than over the three. With such a reputation built on speed and insanity any time the Gamblers slow down it’s instantly visible and subject to discussion/scrutiny. This is where the band finds themselves with their latest album, The Wolf You Feed, attempting to age gracefully while maintaining the energy that made them who they are today.
For those familiar with the Gamblers' traditional sound, The Wolf You Feed is certainly going to be a bit jarring on the surface. While the album features songs that are substantially longer than previous Gamblers’ album, the more startling aspect comes from the pace of tracks. The album closer, “Eviction Notice,” may be the second shortest song on the album but it moves at a measured (perhaps even slow) pace, complete with almost soul-like “oh”s backing up the chorus. There are faster moments in the album, but even at its most brisk The Wolf You Feed still drags far behind older Gamblers’ material for sheer speed and brevity.
But it isn’t just about speed and song length; it’s about what the Gamblers try to accomplish with these slower, longer songs. This is where the album really shines. While 2009’s Underneath the Owl simply felt like the Gamblers’ at 3/4 speed, The Wolf You Feed sounds like the band really took the time to expand their repertoire. “Gallows Bird” is a slow, bitter march with a deep blues feel, that seems more at home in a whiskey-soaked bar than a skate park. The track wallows in its own depression like a pig in slop until the building of a surprisingly bluesy guitar solo that descends into a chaotic mess of crashing instrumentation and breaking glass, finally silenced by the instantly distinguishable tone of the Emergency Broadcast System (the tone isn’t a cheap cop out at the end of the song, either, but rather highlights the crumbling chaos of the entire song structure until it eventually must cut out). Later the band visit the downtrodden mindset of '90s alt-rock (“Loser Neck”) and even seem to flirt with the Doors (“Dead Eyes”) all while making sure to keeping enough bounce in their step to keep from feeling drawn out like previous efforts.
In all the talk about their more mature sound, it’s important to know that the Gamblers still know how to rock and demonstrate it very well on a number of tracks (“Soliloquy,” “Blue Ghosts,” etc). But the interesting thing on The Wolf You Feed isn’t the Gamblers doing what they’ve already shown they can do well, it’s the new steps that they’ve taken. For a long time lower energy songs were considered filler on Riverboat Gamblers’ albums, because the fast, high energy ones were the only ones people wanted to see live. For perhaps the first time Riverboat Gamblers have a collection of slower songs that aren’t only as exciting as their fast paced ones, but perhaps even more exciting. That isn’t to say there won’t be fans yearning for Wiebe to leap off the second story balcony while belting out “What’s What” but if the band can keep making music that’s as interesting and diverse as The Wolf You Feed, they may outlast those memories.