My kind patrons at The Bay Bridged indulged my request to wander just a step off the beaten path and up to North Beach to catch up with The Blank Tapes, an alt-country rock band whose new album Home Away From Home has been lodged at the top of my personal playlist.

It is a balmy late spring evening of the sort that tourists usually only dream of seeing on this fabled corner. I've walked past Grant and Green saloon hundreds of times without stopping in. Chances are you have, too. I expected to see a few regulars in their Niners jerseys, and anywhere from a smattering to a quorum of hipsters in the know. Instead, the place is packed with Marina youth and a gang of young fans down from Chico to see openers The Amblers. The temperature and air quality are at sauna levels already as they ease into their set.

My colleague and I trade relieved glances. The Amblers have their own country-tinged groove, and it's working. Compositions are sophisticated and arrangements are tight. All three front liners pitch in on vocals, and make their raw singing skills work for them. Each member has mastered their chops, and yet they retain a loose, puppyish garage energy suggestive of early Dr. Dog. Byron the bassist keeps up a lively banter, and sings the last song with his mom.

It's a mystery at a show like this -- three bands perfectly suited for each other -- just who is at the center of the effort, but I suspect it was Daniel Paggi, who fronts Roy G. Biv and The Mnemonic Devices next. He's been adjusting the sound and generally directing traffic all evening. Onstage, his presence is similarly efficient, if a little muted. The Devices also boast some really quality songs and energetic harmonies. And they also have their roots in Chico. What kind of ace alt-country scene is going on up there?

The Blank Tapes - "We Can Do What We Want To"

I met Matt Adams, who more or less is the band The Blank Tapes, when he was backing up Ash Reiter at the Rickshaw Stop. Since then I have failed to see him as he plowed through a working man band's trail of shows at Kimo's, The Red Devil Lounge, and The Elbo Room. His self-produced album, on which he plays many of the instruments, is steeped in the classic country rock of Gram Parsons and The Eagles. But it carves out a space of its own that does not come across as a period exercise. The groovy jam of "We Can Do What We Want," or the long, trance-like framgents like "Flashing Before Your Eyes," place it securely in our epoch.

Matt works with a rotating cast of guest musicians live. Tonight he has brought some solid regulars: Sean Olmstead of FpodBpod on guitar, Steven Child from Childlike Divine on bass, and the beyond-solid rhythms of Spencer Grossman on drums and percussionist Will Halsey, who also backs up Ash Reiter. Child's intricite bass lines provide much of the melody, freeing Adams to shred up his Telecaster.

And that is what Adams appears to have come for. As with the opening bands, his voice is serviceable, but the emphasis is on the songs, not the singer. True to the band's old-school ethic, taking the songs live means stretching out with some fiery jams. Adams and crew show great instincts for how far to take the solos out of the the song, and how to bring it all back on cue.

It's well after midnight as they wrap up with the slow testimony of the album's title track. The crowd has thinned out and the air is breathable again. But that doesn't stop Adams from dropping to his knees and putting his vintage delay unit through its paces. I climb Green street in the glow of mist and street lights, taking stock of my good fortune to see great bands on a great corner in just the greatest town.

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