Are you ready for Round 2 of Jake Butler checking out a show at the Starry Plough on behalf of The Bay Bridged? I sure as hell was last Friday and this train is leaving town, so jump on board!

The night was very promising for the sheer fact that Or, the Whale was coming off a great set at Treasure Island Music Festival (note: for those of you who couldn’t make it, the festival was like Outside Lands minus all the bad parts). Toss in one part The Mumlers, and a generous spoonful of The Porchsteps and badabing badaboom – you’ve got a nice evening.

The Porchsteps led off with a 100 percent folk set. There was no mincing of styles here. No funk bass, no New Orleans horn section, no fuzzed out guitars. Just straight ahead folk music complete with fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, drums and auxiliary percussion. Laura Anne Minkoff was on lead vocals and combined with the rest of the band’s harmonies, she created a sound that was so warm and inviting it was like running into your mother’s wide open arms for the bestest hug in the world.

Technically they put on a solid set, but when they invited everyone to get up and dance towards the end of their set and only a couple people started moving, it was symbolic of their evening. They were a little too low key in contrast to the rest of the lineup. Good band, just not the ideal situation for them.

Next up were The Mumlers and boy, oh boy, were they awesome. Coming fresh off a west coast tour that took them from the likes of San Diego all the way to Seattle, this band was saucy. First things first – instrumentation. When you have one guy jumping from alto sax, to clarinet, to guitar, and back again, along with a guy jumping between French horn and trumpet, and finally a euphonium; well, my friends, you have what it takes to create a beautiful sound.

[audio:http://www.hearya.com/mp3/03%20red%20river%20hustle.mp3]
The Mumlers - "Red River Hustle"

The Mumlers kicked things off with some classic R&B horn riffs which, with my love of Motown, immediately converted me to a fan. Their lead singer, Will Sprott, has a deeply soulful voice. At one point in the show he commented that he wasn’t sure how his voice would deal with the high notes on one particular tune due to it being a little worn out from the tour, but I’d say he didn’t miss a beat. As they continued to play, they revealed just how broad their influences are with a taste of gypsy music to complement the blues, R&B and indie rock palette.

The highlight of their set was their eighth song, which I’ll call “Won’t You Change Your Mind,” as I do not know the official name and this lyric was repeated many times. It was a slower jam that I could see the kids in The Sandlot slowdancing to at their high school homecoming dance. At one point it felt as if the song was about to wrap up, and then Will and his guitar found their way into the audience, and turned to watch his band play, and listen to their background vocals sung with an honesty difficult to replicate. I would later find out he did this to check out the mix, but at the moment it looked more as if he was in as much awe of the group on stage as I was. It got even better as they continued to stretch out the vamp at the end and got everyone in the crowd to sing along. It was a truly beautiful moment.

Or, the Whale took the stage shortly thereafter and immediately got into what they do best by laying down the countrified indie rock, and laying it down thick. Tim Marcus was on pedal steel, impeccably adding to the sound while never dominating it. The harmonies were great as well. Two part harmony is hard enough to pull off, but these guys and gals were effortlessly, and regularly, putting together four parts.

The crowd did seem to thin out a little towards the beginning of their set which really surprised me. I assumed most of the crowd was there to see Or, the Whale, but the same thing happened the last time I was at the Starry Plough, so I think it may be a quirk of the venue (the Porchsteps were also loading out in the middle of Or, the Whale's set for what it’s worth).

"Call and Response", off their current album, was a great tune and I did notice several people in the crowd singing along. The band was letting their enthusiasm show through more on stage, especially Lindsay Garfield on vocals and tambourine. Speaking of Lindsay and tambourine, I’m pretty sure she got her degree in ridiculously sweet tambourine moves, because she was spinning around, slapping it on both sides, and really owning the stage at points, with nothing more than her voice and the tambo.

The show carried on with their Phil-Spector’s-wall-of-sound-meets-Nashville flavor, with just enough slower and softer moments to bring a delicate balance to the universe. And then, it seemed that the show was over, but a slowly growing chant for an encore would not allow the music to die. Most of the band was packing up their instruments, but Alex grabbed his acoustic guitar and began to play a sing. One by one the remaining band members joined in vocals, with the drummer adding some cymbal rolls for color. Another truly beautiful moment.

One evening. Two beautiful moments. Three solid bands. How’d you spend your Friday night?

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