Review | Mustache Harbor & Princess | SF Sketchfest | San Francisco

By: Eric Podolsky

Yacht Rock Heroes with Mustache Harbor & Friends :: 02.02.13 :: Yoshi's SF Lounge :: San Francisco, CA

Once a year, usually around the end of January, San Francisco is overwhelmed with comedic talent when hordes of funny people descend on the city for the annual comedy festival, Sketchfest. As usual, this year brought a plethora of unique and memorable performances, from panel discussions, stand up and sketch comedy, to film screenings and live music.

One musical performance that lived up to its reputation was a set from local favorites Mustache Harbor, a tounge-in-cheek band of seasoned musicians which delivers spot-on renditions of all your favorite smooth AM radio hits from the late 70s/early 80s (otherwise known as Yacht Rock). Performing in the Yoshi's Lounge, this intimate show was nothing but a silly party, complete with fake mustaches flowing like wine, and wine flowing like water. Dressed in their finest yachting blazers and striped shirts, the band ripped through hit after hit of sing-along staples, proving that their love for these ridiculous songs stemmed from more than irony.

Opening with Christopher Cross' “Ride Like The Wind,” the band quickly proved that they would have no trouble nailing the grand four-part harmonies that are omni-present throughout such soft rock classics. And though the sound from the makeshift PAs was lacking, the band and audience's energy more than made up for the lack of audio quality. Lead vocals were traded off, as renditions of Looking Glass' lost classic “Brandy (You're A Fine Girl),” Michael McDonald's “I Keep Forgettin',” (essential in the Yacht Rock cannon) and Steely Dan's “Rikki Don't Lose That Number” were executed flawlessly.

Mustache Harbor
At this point, we were treated to a monologue from Scott Adsit and Janey Varney, who shared their theory with us that Hall & Oates' “Your Kiss is On My List” is in fact a terrible song with nonsense lyrics. Upon performing it, though, it was determined by everyone that “Your Kiss” is, in fact, quite an excellent song. This was followed by an epic rendition of Toto's “Africa,” whose lyrics are very nearly impossible to deliver earnestly (“sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti”).

We were soon treated to an appearance by none other than the Pope himself (in the guise of Matt Besser), who gave us his blessing with a clean rendition of “I Really Want To See You Tonight.” After a rocking take on Toto's “Hold the Line” featuring a searing guitar solo from “Pretty” Rick Dallas, the somewhat short set ended with everyone onstage for a huge sloppy sing-along of Styx's “Come Sail Away,” that epic ode to the smooth life that is Mustache Harbor's anthem of sorts. A bonus encore of the Doobie Brothers' “What A Fool Believes” (featuring a solid Michael McDonald impression) closed the night out in soulful style, giving everyone a newfound, non-ironic appreciation for this class of smooth studio concoctions from another time. Because there truly is nothing like good Yacht Rock, nor will there ever be again.

Princess :: 02.08.13 :: Yoshi's SF Lounge :: San Francisco, CA

A week later, another tribute to legendary 80s music took place in Yoshi's – and while Mustache Harbor straddled the line between irony and earnestness, Maya Rudolph and musician Gretchen Lieberum's Prince tribute band Princess was a pure love letter to the music of the Purple One. In fact, aside from some well-timed choreography and colorful band outfits, there wasn't much humor in the show at all – this was more of a straight female reading of the songs' super-sexualized lyrics, which were funny enough in their themes of incest and sexual acts just delivered straight. Rudolph and Lieberum sang all the lyrics in unison, sometimes harmonizing, and though it was clear they both had great voices, many times they fell back on a persona of detached, sultry sensuality that didn't always showcase their pipes.

The set drew mostly from Prince's pre-Purple Rain, super-sexualized early-80s output, and it was clear that the band had a geeky obsession with the man's massive discography, as they busted out demos and deep cuts that few but the most hardcore Prince nerds in the crowd knew well. Tunes like “Let's Work,” “Head,” and “Sister” were nailed by the super-tight backup band, funking up the synths, minimal rhythm guitar and slap bass like it was 1981. Both Rudolph and Lieberum had the trademark Prince over-the-head clap down to a tee, and though Rudolph wore a large trench coat, it was clear she was very pregnant, which made her performance that much more impressive.

After “When You Were Mine” got the sing-along going, things started to get going with “D.M.S.R.,” which was followed by the epic, sexy power ballad “The Beautiful Ones,” but the following two songs, “Down” and “17 Days,” fell flat – the gimmick behind the girls' detached stage persona was starting to wear off, and the energy was dying down.

Regardless of this, the headbanded, shirtless, fishnet-stockinged all-male band still held it down throughout, doing every song justice with top notch musicianship. “Lady Cab Driver” brought things back up again with its staccato funk, and the groove got heavier with “Controversy,” which led into the band's signature number, “Darling Nikki.” This song worked for Princess in all the right ways: it was heavy, provocative, and suited Rudolph and Lieberum's singing style perfectly – it's no wonder they chose to close the set with it.

An encore of “Purple Rain” was a no-brainer, and though the guitar solo was searing, the ladies delivered the vocals in unison like they had memorized them word-for-word from the record, which took away from the song's soul a fair amount. No matter though, it was a treat to hear these songs in a live setting delivered with such precision and devotion to Prince's vision. This show was one big love-fest geek-out tribute to Prince's early output, and it was clear that the band revered the music just as much (if not more) as the audience.

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[Published on: 3/4/13]

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