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Best Bass-less Bands

The bassist has always been an important, though overlooked, part of rock music. Standing in the shadows while the singers and guitarists get all of the attention, the bassist provides the backbone of the rhythm. Still, in recent years there has been a growing trend to cut that thankless position out of the band. Bassists everywhere feel like they’re being disrespected, as if the music industry is defiantly saying “bassists? We don’t need no stinking bassists!”

A rock band without a bassist is a difficult thing to pull off. Countless garage bands have tried it simply because they didn’t have a friend who wanted to play bass. The vast majority of those bands would be better off also removing the drummer, guitarist and singer from the band. On the rare occasion that it works, though, a bass-less rock band delivers a unique sound that deserves appreciation. Therefore, here are the 10 best bass-less rock bands.

10. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

This band burst onto the scene in 1991 with its unique blend of rock, blues, punk and rockabilly. Though innovative and always entertaining, the sophomoric lyrics were always a weak point of the songs.

9. Times New Viking

This Columbus three-piece has a distinctive low-fi noise pop that is recorded on cassette tape. Their concise tracks often include shouted vocals, heavily distorted drums and guitars and audible tape hiss. If that music is your thing, this is the best band to do it sans bass.

8. The Doors

The Doors are a band that I really want to hate, because the band and its fans are so damn pretentious. From the thought that somehow rock music needs more organ solos to the insistence that Jim Morrison be referred to as a poet simply because the “Lizard King” wrote countless songs and poems about his schlong, this band will rarely find its way onto one of my “best of” lists. However, the most impressive thing about the band is its ability to lay down a bassline in concert without using a bassist. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek played the bassline with his left hand while playing the keyboard part with his right. So yeah, this man replaced an entire musician with one hand.


7. Gossip

Gossip would probably be rated higher on this list, but they recently added a bassist to the band. Without a bassist, though, this Olympia band is able to tear through its sets with the ferocity of punk rock and the soul and swagger of funk.

6. The White Stripes

Jack and Meg White’s former band is probably the most obvious one on this list. Though they popularized bass-less rock with their intense live shows, I’ve always felt that Jack White is best when he has a bassist, such as with the Raconteurs. Still, there is something to be said for the rawness of the White Stripes’ garage blues sound.

5. Sleater-Kinney

The best band to emerge from the riot grrrl scene of the 1990’s, Sleater-Kinney combined Corin Tucker’s passionate vocals, political activism, punk intensity and heavy experimentation. They were a rare riot grrrl band that never bored or seemed more caught up in their message than in the music.

4. Soulive

“Where the hell is the bassist?” That’s a question often heard at Soulive shows. This jazz-funk trio doesn’t have a bassist, but they do have some mean basslines in their songs, thanks to the left-hand playing of keyboardist Neal Evans. Known for their long jam sessions and virtuosity on each instrument, the bass player is never missed from this band.

3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Guitarist Nick Zinner compensates for the lack of bass with his tone and low end-heavy guitar playing. Between that and the drumming of Brian Chase, it’s hard to notice that there is no bassline. Though in recent years the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have moved toward more of a pop influence, they are at their best when channeling their garage punk roots.

2. The Black Keys

With Dan Auerbach’s thumb and finger picking and Patrick Carney aggressively attacking the drums, no more rhythm is needed. Though they expanded their sound with last year’s Brothers, the core of the band is still a two-man assault on blues conventions. Add Auerbach’s soulful vocals and you have one of the best bands in the business, bass or no bass.

1. The Kills

This duo takes less-is-more to a new level. Not only do they not have a bassist, but they don’t have a drummer either. They compensate for both instruments with a drum loop and Jamie Hince’s unique guitar style. Soulful vocal harmonies, buzzsaw guitarwork, thudding percussion and an anti-rock star persona make the Kills one of my new favorite bands.

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