Rays Vast Basement
It had been a little while since I'd seen a good show, and the lineup last Wednesday (5/28/08) at Annie's Social Club was an intriguing mix of Bay Bridged favorites and new-to-me acts. It wasn't the most well-attended show, but it was the sort of unencumbered evening where you could just sit back and enjoy some great loose performances.

Jessica Peters took the stage first as Petracovich (Feature Podcast), playing a thirty-minute solo set of subdued indie folk-pop largely drawn from her upcoming third album. A couple months back, Jessica sent The Bay Bridged a CD of new home recorded demos, which became one of those double-edged perks of site proprietorship: wonderful because the demos capture that layered emotive pop with personal lyrics that she does so well, and frustrating because they feel plenty release-worthy and the new album is still a few months away.

The Petracovich sound has been classified as "folktronica," but the latest demos feel much more organic than electronic, and Wednesday's set featured limited xylophone looping alongside Peters' voice, piano and banjo. Less instruments meant more focus on the lyrics, which felt personal and familial because they were just that. As she explained between songs, one new composition used lyrics that her sister had composed at age 6, and another drew from a late night North Bay driving experience. Petracovich is a family name, she noted, and her set was the sort of close, autobiographical experience that often feels with the best of singer-songwriter performances.

Despite the big tent meaning of folk, Jon Bernson's solo performance as Ray's Vast Basement (Feature Podcast) felt like a bit of a 180 from Petracovich's personal details and more straightforward melodies. By contrast, Bernson's story-songs offer windows into a fully-realized universe of characters and his unconventional songs incorporate strong influences of traditional folk and Americana. In a more pretentious hand, the literary feel and the hint of old-timeyness would be off-putting, but Jon kept things loose and fun. The songs sounded great, and I'm excited for the next Ray's Vast Basement album, which is about 70% done, as well as a project Jon's been working on with Black Fiction's Tim Cohen.

Based out of Durham, North Carolina, The Physics of Meaning was a break from acoustic solo performances and local acts, but not without a strong Bay Area connection. Bandleader Daniel Hart is a member of John Vanderslice's touring band, among a number of projects, and Vanderslice and bandmates Dave Douglas and headliner Ian Bjornstad joined the band onstage for a great song during the set. While that moment was the highlight, the band's enthusiastic chamber-rock soared throughout with tight harmonies and Hart's skillful violin-playing. I always get a little nervous when a rock band uses a classical instrument, and while the show opened and closed with frenetic violin solos, Hart used the instrument primarily as another layer in the group's impressive melodic wall.

Unfortunately, a four-band Wednesday night that started around 8:30 meant that it was already plenty late when Ian Bjornstad began his set. Vowing to see him at a later date, I left thoroughly satisfied with the evening's events.