Sunday, February 19, 2012

Matthew Santos - Eric Stepanian - Sweetbread Jim's -- Black Cat - Feb 18 2012

Day 18 of the 29 Days Later is the toughest yet as the cold is not quite going away yet and the Dead Milkmen show is a sell-out, I miss out on an easy going early show. But the Black Cat has something cooking...

Sweetbread Jim's - Sweetbread Jim introduces the band to us by saying he owns them and we should support them so he can move out of his mother's basement. Then he leaves. Oh, so he is not in the band and based on their name, he does own the band. There is a joke in here somewhere. No, actually they explain it further here. A woman on guitar handles all the vocals and is accompanied by bass and drums. The first song has quick jarring chords like crossing the Shaggs with the Cramps. Interesting. They slide into light lounge Americana pop jazz thereafter with occasional comebacks into striking rhythms. The vocals are good, but the overall effect is puzzling. So extra credit points for originality and likability, but maybe some more work is needed on songs and direction. But that is what Andrew Loog Oldham, or rather Sweetbread Jim, can work on next. They are gigging regularly, so we can all watch and see.

Eric Stepanian - Next is a guy from Boston with an acoustic guitar and a mic. I get more of a Jammin Java feel tonight and the Black Cat smartly put tables and chairs up front to create more of an intimate atmosphere. There was a small crowd but bigger than their downstairs stage would hold, so the set up worked. Stepanian has a rock style to his guitar work, but does not play at hyper speeds. There is a strength to the songs that work well enough in this format, but could also work with a full band. He does a Josh Ritter cover so a comparison to Ritter seems appropriate. His voice is moderately deep, flexible and only a touch of reverb. His vocal quality makes it easy to focus on the songs and roll with his 38 minute set. Nicely done.

Matthew Santos -  Hmmm, a guy who likes Nick Drake and has worked with hip hop artist Lupe Fiasco? My curiosity is up. He has an acoustic guitar along with two microphones. That mystery is solved quickly as he uses one to create interesting beatbox loops and the other one for his high quality vocals. His guitar work is also excellent as he mixes finger style work with simple chords to complex tonal landscape work. Yes the Nick Drake is in there, but there is more of a Spiritualized effect as when that band heads toward their shoegaze folk material. I am also hearing some Jeff Buckley here as well as Santos has the voice and style to carry on that sound. Oh, and about ten minutes after I make that note, he mentions that Jeff Buckley's mother wanted him to audition for the roll in the upcoming Jeff Buckley biopic. He then performed a striking "Hallelujah" which takes some guts as Jeff Buckley's version is nothing short of magnificent. He reminded everyone that Buckley did not write it (Leonard Cohen), but like pretty much every musician, he probably wished he had. Gutsy move that went over very well with the crowd. He went an hour and ten minutes and at the end, it was amazing how versatile his set was with just a few pieces of equipment (and the ability to know how and when to use it all). I enjoyed this a lot and it reminded me again how there are always new ways to combine and integrate styles and genres.

Another Obit... I just wrote this week about the founder of Destroy All Monster dying, when I just learn that their bass player Michael Davis has died. Davis was better known for his work in the essential band, MC5. I was thrilled to see the reconstituted version of the MC5 right here at the Black Cat in June, 2004. Davis and the two remaining live members had help from Marshall Crenshaw, Mark Arm, and Evan Dando (just before they let him go). It was a killer set from a band that like the Stooges, played a pivotal role in pushing rock's boundaries and influencing loads of punk rock bands. For more, read "Grit, Noise & Revolution: the Birth of Detroit Rock'n'Roll".

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