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Fueled by Curiosity: Ruins of Ooah will confuse you... right before you start dancing 

Ruins of Ooah will confuse you... right before you start dancing

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At the Bend Roots Revival a couple weeks back, the sun was starting to set and the crowd at the Victorian Café grew steadily as curious onlookers tried to get a better view, and perhaps more dancing space, as by far the most bizarre act of the weekend cranked away on the stage.

The act was a trio called Ruins of Ooah and it doesn't have a guitar player, or a bass player or keyboardist. There's no horn section or turntables or any of that fare. It's just your typical didjeridu, harmonica and drums collective... not that this is typical by any means. Tyler Spencer, a local didjeridu maker (that's a typical profession, right?) leads the act, which also includes Justus Williams on harmonica and Adam Bushey on drums, both of whom are based out of Eugene and once accompanied Spencer in that city's jam band of record, Reeble Jar.

Spencer and the Ruins of Ooah are accustomed to the 'WTF-is-that?' stare they receive when they start a set, whether here in Oregon or elsewhere on one of their recent tours that have taken the men as far as the Midwest.

"I would say that oftentimes you get people who are like, 'What is this and what is that instrument called?' It gets people curious for sure. It's a pretty positive type of curiosity. It's not like, 'What are you guys thinking?'" says Spencer.

Although Ruins of Ooah's instrumentation is quirkier than a pair of Aqua Socks, the music is surprisingly conventional, stripping away the "novelty band" label the guys might be tagged with when they take the stage. Spencer's didjeridu tones take care of the lower end while Williams provides much of the melody, all of which is tied together by Bushey's steady beat keeping. It's dance music without any electronic distraction but rather a fiercely tribal edge that has you moving before you realize why or how.

"We're trying to break the barriers of prejudgment when it comes to the instrumentation we're using," says Spencer. "We're trying to do something different and trying to use them like real instruments."

The music is highly structured and thankfully rarely wanders to the Land of Aimless Jams. These songs are the product of what Spencer describes as "reverse engineering" in which the band records its rehearsal jams and then picks and chooses nuggets from those jams from which they can create a solid song.

A seemingly relaxed and endlessly genteel guy, the 31-year-old Spencer's own curiosity very well might be part of the fuel that powers Ruins of Ooah. Spencer traveled to Australia to study with didjeridu masters and is constantly experimenting with different woods when making his instruments. He grew up near Veneta, the home of the hippie-ified Oregon Country Fair, but grew up in a family of hunters and wasn't all that interested in the tie-dyed culture of the Country Fair until much later in life.

Spencer, when profiled in this paper a year ago for his didjeridu making and performing skills, mentioned that he was in the process of getting a three-piece act together. This was interesting enough, but what made it truly noteworthy was that only a few months later he had a band that was playing all over the region and beyond. The band's shows in Bend have been boosted by co-bills with Empty Space Orchestra and other notable acts as well as that "positive curiosity" Spencer speaks of.

"If we didn't do much with it, I think people would be over it pretty quickly," says Spencer, "I don't know if it was a conscious decision to do this, but I think I can speak for all three of us, and say that when we play, it's not just about us playing music, we want people to move and feel like they're a part of it."

Ruins of Ooah, Basin Range

9pm, Thursday, October 8. The Summit Saloon and Stage, 125 NW Oregon Ave. $5.


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