By: Dennis Cook
Vetiver/Kelley Stoltz/The Mumlers :: 05.06.08 :: Great American Music Hall :: San Francisco, CA
Sometimes a good song – a captivating melody, an alluring lyric, some snap, crackle and pop – is hard to find in today's wilderness of jarring noises and canned pap. When you find a sympathetic vibration on your internal radio antenna, a small piece of happiness you can hum, it's about the best thing ever - for three or four minutes at least. Last week a trio of super talented songsmiths gathered and delivered this kind of chestnut, one after another. One hesitates to call bands this young "classic" but one sensed the ghosts of Syd Barrett, Townes Van Zandt and Nick Drake had sauntered into the former Roaring '20s gambling hall (and some say brothel) to bend an ear last Wednesday.
San Jose's The Mumlers, decked out in classy dress shirts and stylish cravats that made them look like they'd mugged a Lawrence Welk act (in a good way), presented their beautifully dented pop swing. Equal measures Modest Mouse and Randy Newman (or alternately Paul Simon and Safe As Milk-era Captain Beefheart), The Mumlers showed off their deep reach into the American unconscious, duct taping bits of ragtime and white blues onto Tom Waits-ian baubles of great charm. While they tapped their excellent 2008 debut, Thickets & Stitches, it was the many new songs that spoke to their growing density and increased forthrightness. Even when they're singing about death or heartbreak, The Mumlers manage to be fun and engaging, a slow gin fizz for sad souls seeking brighter hours.
S.F.'s Kelley Stoltz took his meticulously crafted studio wizardry into tough new territory. Live there's pleasantly messy fuzz on his grand pop inventions. At first, it was a bit of a struggle to shake off the expectation of layered, tight rock that his albums set up but if you relaxed the band took you onto the dance floor with shoulder shaking force. The sea of bobble headed enthusiasts by mid-set showed that the band had also warmed up, fully embracing their garage-y vibe and pressing forward like Badfinger with somethin' to prove. Stoltz is one of the most consistent, endlessly clever popsmiths going, and his albums, including the recently released Circular Sounds, which provided the backbone of their selections, are studies in well sculpted songwriting and production delivered with all the sweetness of a first dance or a longed for valentine. In concert, he's a bit more muscular but consciously so. While not as immediately seductive as his albums, there's something interesting happening with his live interpretations that bears further exploration.
Vetiver has come a long, long way from their early, dreaded "freak-folk" tag. This San Francisco band led by gifted composer-guitarist-singer Andy Cabic overflowed with confidence and an abundance of new material fresh from their recording sessions in Sacramento for their upcoming third album of originals. In the meantime, this headlining gig celebrated their newly released cover tune collection, Thing Of The Past (released May 12 on Gnomonsong), which dips into the catalogs of Michael Hurley ("Blue Driver"), Norman Greenbaum ("Hook & Ladder"), Loudon Wainwright III ("The Swimming Song"), Hawkwind ("Hurry On Sundown") and more well picked obscurities. The difference between Thing Of The Past and most covers albums is they focused on material that genuinely suits them. There's no obvious pandering or gimmicky bullshit, just cool tunes played with feeling and care – much like what we witnessed during their section of the evening.
Andy Cabic - Vetiver|
Cabic has never been in better voice, and the entire band – Otto Hauser (drums), Brent Dunn (bass), Sanders Trippe (guitar, vocals) and Kevin Barker (guitar, banjo, vocals) – seemed simultaneously tight and loose, like a fresh rubber band, after their recent stint opening for and backing Gary Louris (The Jayhawks). They are empathetic players and they followed the curves and stops of each piece with hunting dog focus. Though each was throwing in his own part, there was a collective sense of movement that flowed behind the whole set, where they moan about being "broke down and busted" one minute and then emerge into pastoral calm the next. Each emotional shift and musical turn felt organic, no matter how much it differed from the ones on either side of a change. Portions conjured the high country vibe of Workingman's Dead while others, notably a raging electric tear through "You May Be Blue" from 2006's incredible To Find Me Gone, wrestled the blues into new spaces, manhandling them like Quicksilver Messenger Service and Moby Grape used to. Capable of great gentleness and harnessed meanness, Vetiver showed a wider spectrum than any of their soundbites ever suggested. This is a seriously good live act to keep your ears open for in the future.
JamBase | San Francisco
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