Arriving on time for a show is always a good idea for many reasons. The most compelling reason being that with any luck you find yourself listening to a band whose sound surprises and whose obscurity confounds you. The bill, curated by Annie Southworth of San Francisco’s Leafy Green Booking, was front-loaded with one- or two-instrument bands, so the set changeovers were pretty quick.
On May 16, San Francisco’s The Hallflowers played the part of surprisingly good opener. The band consists of four members: guitarist Doug Hilsinger (who occasionally sings) and three vocalists, sisters Jennifer and Laurie Hall and mother Phyllis Hall. I’ve always found something special about the way voices from the same family blend when harmonizing and the Halls were no exception. Each Hall took turns lead singing a mix of covers and originals, but it was the segments of the The Hallflowers’ set when the Hall women (and from time to time Doug Hilsinger) sang three (and four) part harmonies that halted the chattering crowd, mid-conversation.
Sacramento’s Two Sheds followed The Hallflowers. Constant comparisons from music writers can be stifling for a young band fighting for their own identity and recognition. But in the case of Two Sheds, I have to make a quick comparison to Cat Power’s Covers Record. It is an amazingly overlooked album and Chan Marshall never really sounded like her Covers Record except on her Covers Record. Therefore any band that captures that warm, lazy Sunday and deceptively intense sound is of absolute necessity to me. Though plagued by sound issues, Two Sheds played a quick set of compositions mainly off their first record, Strange Ammunition (UnderAcloud Records). Caitlin Gutenberger’s vocals cut through the feedback and John Gutenberger’s guitar work quietly added dimension to Two Sheds’ spare live sound.
Within five minutes of the close of Two Sheds’ set, Holocene recording artist and Nevada City native, Alela Diane walked on stage with an acoustic guitar, the concentration of a seasoned solo performer and a booming voice that even grabbed attention of the pool players in the back of the room.
Following Ms. Diane, emerging Bay Area favorites The Dodos entered stage right. The Dodos play fingerpickin’ heavy, mostly acoustic music enhanced by drumming that does much more than keep time by adding rhythmic dimension which most fingerpickin’ based groups only hint at. The vocals are sometimes clean, sometimes augmented by the ever popular Line 6 digital delay loopstation to create a bigger sound that employs the vocal layers of Animal Collective and the reverb of Roy Orbison. The Dodos get a lot of comparisons to bands who have done something new with a longstanding form and bands that have pushed in new directions, but based on the breadth of the music played during their Wednesday night set–capped by a soon-to-be-recorded song for their new album–the band is actively working toward establishing an identity all of their own.