(Note to the reader: This is an epic tale, long in the telling. If you doubt your mettle, please at least scroll down and check out the respective headliners, who were both rad).
Sometimes the music options in this town present such a tasty dilemma. Friday night saw The Ferocious Few at Fort Mason, Cap'n Jazz at Bimbo's, and down in Polk Gulch, two shows too good to pass up.
Over sushi in The Richmond around 8 PM, a plan emerges: With the help of an able research team, I will cover both shows. The night is warm; our legs are fresh. It can be done.
My sources tell me that Virgil Shaw, up first at the GAMH, is a family man who likes to get off stage early, so he will be stop number one. Sure enough, as we ease in, he is wrapping up his set. Nice, heavy, swampy sound. I'd love to say more, but he's done by 9:05. Clearly, we can stay for another act before checking in at the Hemlock.
The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit obliges us by setting up quickly and launching right into their set. (I have to say here, I so appreciate that. I hate it when a band takes 30 minutes of sullen set up and then goes backstage just to sweat the crowd for another 30. I am herein notifying you all that that is bogus).
TGLTSO is a large ensemble with some skilled and artful pickers. Matt Cordano is a huge asset, handling the Flying V, banjo and pedal steel without breaking a sweat. He trades licks with Jeremy Acker on the opposite side of the stage, who plays solos on his SG exactly how he plays them on the mandolin. Their two-step, harmony-filled ragers have the crowd jumping and swaying, especially when guest singer Bethany Taylor joins them.
It's just a few minutes past 10:00 when I head up to the Hemlock, taking in some of our fair city's other cultural highlights along the way.
Note to self: require everyone I know to start calling me Frenchy.
Young Offenders, the first of three old-school punk acts, are just wrapping up their set.
Blessing the timing, I hoof it back to coordinate with my research cohort, Lia, Anne and Megan.
Here's the plan: I will focus on the Hemlock. Lia will commit to the Great American. If I miss anything significant, Lia will text me a review.
Inside, co-headliners The Pine Box Boys are in the middle of a beautiful, minor chord ballad, with delicate yet smoking solos from Lester T. Raww on guitar and Big Possum Carvidi on the electric banjo.Â From there, the set moves uptempo into "songs of murder and misery" as they put it.
We leave Lia to her sub-task with encouraging hugs and head back up Polk. To our surprise, Australia's Total Control, only the second band on the bill, is still deep in their set.
I run into Kelley Stoltz at the bar. "Yeah," he confirms, "things move kind of leisurely around here." How, I ask, did he end up on this bill anyway? "Aw, these guys are friends of mine," he explains.
For a moment, I am awash with fatigue at the thought of two-plus more hours of music. But over another pint, a light bulb goes on: This is perfect! Everything is going to weave together like it came straight from the loom of the rock gods. We can do it all.
UV Race is up on stage, and, hey! They are kind of musical and catchy. Keyboard player and everything. Upon consideration, this is a cool show for the Hemlock. It sends me back to countless shows in flat black-painted bar backrooms I knocked around in in 1982.
With a renewed spring in our step, we rejoin Lia just in time for Trainwreck Riders. To say they sparked the crowd's energy would be an understatement. The dance floor was bouncing like a trampoline.
It would be accurate but wrong to describe Trainwreck Riders as a Bakersfield-influenced, Telecaster alt-country band. As Duke Ellington said, there are only two kinds of music: good music and bad music. This is some good music.
Their stylistic foundation does not hit you as much as their sincere, organic talent and energy. Their individual voices are passable, but together they sing beautifully. In fact, they are the least overtly virtuosic band of the night, which is not to say they don't peel out some proper riffs from their Fenders. And Shawn "Boof" Wyman is an excellent bass player in that funky-country way. But take note: they trade slickness for energy, and they killed it.
And so we return once more to claim our victory. It's 'round midnight and the scene is just peaking out on the street.
Back in the former Hemlock Tavern storage closet, we are greeted with the welcome sight of a full band tuning up. Stoltz has brought the Ramshackle Romeos (see our review from May 9th) - Kevin Ink on bass and Jamin Barton on everything else - along with second guitarist Brock Galland and drummer James Kim. Being the leader and a deserved legend in the indie music world, Stoltz has naturally chosen to stand in the corner in the dark.
The mix was pretty over-torqued, but what can you ask of the sound guys after 3 punk bands? I will say in fairness that you could hear all the instruments, but Stoltz's voice, which is (in its understated way) excellent, lost out a little.
The group tweaked his songbook for maximum power. His new single "I Don't Get That," (see our earlier news item) rocked hard. But Stoltz' well-documented subtlety and mastery of classic pop song craft were present too, as when Barton replicated the flute part on the insanely catchy "Pinecone" with a Melodion. Kim contributed some super-evocative harmonies towards the end of the set. I wouldn't have minded hearing that all night.
In sum: Out of eight possible bands, your intrepid correspondent made it to. . . wait for it. . . eight. Let it not be said that The Bay Bridged is not here for you.
(Don't poop out yet! In addition to their new albums, Trainwreck Riders and Kelley Stoltz can both be heard on the excellent local compilation "In a Cloud." Kelley Stoltz plays at Mezzanine on September 10th and Cafe du Nord on October 15th before departing for the UK).Tags: Kelley Stoltz, Pine Box Boys, The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit, Total Control, Trainwreck Riders, UV Race, Virgil Shaw, Young Offenders