Bethany and the Guitar - Bethany plays acoustic guitar and sings lead. She has a rhythm section and a versatile acoustic guitar/keyboardist/back-up singer helping out. The second cut had a really nice 'pop' to it and moved it forward from the comforts of alt country/folk. The guitar strumming was quick and countered the more languid vocals well. Again, when you are mining familiar terrain, you do need to dig deeper into your spice rack and find ways to layer the sounds/flavors in slightly unique ways that are still familiar. This band mostly succeeds at this, although the cover song they did was more bland than I expected. And it takes some kind of guts or naivete to name an original song "Summertime", but with the profits of this song going to a worthy charity, I will stay clear of pithy comments. I sensed the crowd enjoyed this set of accessible, heartfelt songs as much as anything tonight.
Rew Smith - The most electric set thus far with two electric guitars and the rhythm section. Plenty of vocals, as well, although I rather preferred a few of their instrumental passages where they rocked out a bit. They kept the pace at a moderate rocking level and played feel-good pop-rock that played it a bit too safe for my liking. It is comfortable for some, but I was reminded of my high school days where I had a choice between Rush or REO Speedwagon. I think most of my readers can guess which path I took. And thanks to the guy wearing a Rush 1st album cover t-shirt tonight to help with this analogy.
Taylor Carson - The fourth straight two-guitar and rhythm section line-up to hit the stage. The crowd is at its peak for the night and it was nice to see more people than open space downstairs with some overflow up with me in the balcony. This may be the most Americana folk rock singer/songwriter set of the night. It is assured with solid songs and vocals, assisted with some thoughtful slide work and lead moves that go for color and not histrionics. They have 'the best looking PhD on drum' apparently. Hmmm... Vic Bondi and Greg Graffin were front men, and not terribly good looking (especially Bondi). What about Lucky Lehrer, original drummer from the Circle Jerks? No, he was a law school grad. Same for Dead Meadow's drummer. OK, I accept that statement. Anyway, after I blanked out for a song while pondering this, I quickly absorbed myself in the quality songs they performed. Very catchy stuff and plenty of potential for nice things.
Midnight Hike - I have reviewed and enjoyed this band's initial album and was looking forward to seeing what they could do live. They had plenty of sound as a keyboardist started the show for a bit before the drummer joined him. Then the two guitars, bass and lead vocalist joined in for the full sonic thrust. The catchy songs are present and they play their brand of rock music that is a tad more classic than indie and incorporates some R&B at times. The band was playing well and had plenty of energy, yet there was something about the set that was dogging me. Although the sound was clear, I finally felt that the guitars were a bit too compressed. The rhythm guitar was not even audible enough much of the time. I think it may be as much how the guitars are set on stage as opposed to what the soundman was doing. Hard to tell and this may be my personal preference more than a mistake on the band/soundman's part (and this huge PA can throw some bands off). But I hope that they open it up more and let the guitars breathe and snarl a bit more in future. When they went to two or three guys on drums/percussion, they snarled plenty. But the band still showed a lot of skill the way they played with each other. There is good musical camaraderie and songs that pull the audience in. They will be interesting to see again in 6-12 months.
Quote of the Night: "This/That song is/was on our CD, available in the back for $____." I must have heard this 17 times by now, half way through the third set. Amusingly enough just after I wrote this down, the next quote was "This one's on our CD... for the fourth time". Thanks to the last two bands for barely mentioning this.
And a free tip for all bands, especially younger ones. Go see Robyn Hitchcock to see stage patter as good as the music (even better at times, which is no knock on his excellent music). Even if your best couple of lines match his worst, you will be doing great. Don't shoot for his levels right away, but see the opportunities available.