Concert Preview: The Donkeys

The Donkeys play this weekend in San Diego and will return later in December. Photo courtesy of Dead Oceans.

By Eden Frost

The Donkeys
Dead Oceans Record Label

San Diego-made band The Donkeys make their way home this weekend playing a free show at the Whistle Stop Bar in South Park, San Diego on Friday. If you’re around this isn’t a band you’ll want to miss. If you’ve heard of The Donkeys you know what an incredible sound this band of pals has to offer and if you haven’t, it’s time to take a listen! Friends and music lovers since high-school, Anthony Lukens, Timothy DeNardo and Sam Sprague were joined by Jessie Gulati in the early 2000’s to form this enchanting and soulful band. I first heard them playing on a Pandora station and immediately pushed the thumbs up icon. I was delighted with the stream of songs that followed. Surf vibes, funky guitar riffs and hypnotizing choruses make The Donkeys a band you can’t stop listening to. Song after song I am amazed at how diverse and simply great this band is. Their sound ranges from a funky country rock with psychedelic undertones, sounding out of this era, to electric trances combining elements of reggae and mellow blues. The lyrics are witty and the vocals are the perfect counterpart to the rad instrumentals this band emanates.

Each of The Donkeys three albums showcase a different part of their sound, yet there is a consistency to be heard throughout. The Donkeys self titled debut album was released with Antenna Farm Records in 2006. “Lower the Heavens”, a purely instrumental piece that builds from guitar and percussion to a powerfully rhythmic wordless chorus captivated me at first listen and has become one of my favorites from the band and definitely off this album. Another one of my favorites off The Donkeys’ debut has to be “Black Cat.” The mellow guitar and light quality of the instrumentals juxtaposed with the dark lyrics make for such an interesting vibe that is present throughout the album.

Their second release, Living On The Other Side was put out in 2008 with their current record label, Dead Oceans. This album took a step in a mellower direction but with just as much soul and the same groovy vibes heard in their previous work. Songs like “Boot on the Seat” and “Nice Train” give us an inside to the sentiments of the band’s Southern California beach life and some everyday events that are a part of this friendship and quartet.

Dead Oceans put out their third album Born with Stripes in April of 2011 and the music is just as rad as the album cover, featuring a striped bullfrog amongst swirls and spots and new blue stockings. The more you look at the cover the more you see a part of each of their songs. “I Like The Way You Walk” was one of the first songs I heard on Pandora and is one of my favorites on this album. It’s sweet lyrics are full of unique compliments that go with the upbeat funky melody. “Bullfrog Blues” and “New Blue Stockings” with their tambourine shaking and twangy guitar sounds round out my top picks on this album but the sitar playing is ridiculous on both East and West Coast Raga’s.

I can’t say there’s a song of The Donkeys that I don’t like. Their two EPs “Split” and their most recent release this past April, “Won’t Let You Down” keeps with the band’s incredible sound. I only wish I’d get to see their charisma and energy in person. ( Sadly I’m still few years or a fake ID short of getting in to any of their 21+ shows.) They’re a killer band with some serious talent that we don’t see or hear enough of these days. Keep it up guys! The band will be back in San Diego December 28, playing at The Casbah.