Kelley Stoltz
Kelley Stoltz

The night began with The Weather Underground (LA) taking the stage to create a swell of cymbals and everlasting sustain. Eventually the song burst into something like U2 if they made The Joshua Tree in 2008. As the set continued I saw less U2 though and more Prince, especially with the lead singer’s matador-like movements and soulful vocals. Their cover of “Something’s Gotta Give” was a high point as was their mariachi send off.

The Berkeley quartet The Morning Benders were up next. These boys have the unthreatening good looks to sell a lot of t-shirts to 14-year old girls at a Hot Topic. Even though they look like they are in the 10th grade, their sound is not sophomoric at all. Three-minute pop songs complete with some Bluesy riffs, a little Rhodes piano, and thoughtful lyrics kept me entertained throughout their set. Fans of The Shins and Phantom Planet should check out The Morning Benders.

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For those of you that have heard of Carissa’s Wierd (the “i” is supposed to come before the “e”), you are familiar with Mat Brooke’s haunting and beautifully whispered vocals. If you have never heard of Carissa’s Wierd, or Brooke’s more recent collaboration with fellow Carissa’s Wierd alum Ben Bridwell, then I highly recommend checking them out. Although The Grand Archives have a similar whispery sound as Brooke’s previous outfits, the melancholic attitude seems to have shifted to one of optimism. The result is still reminiscent of Carissa’s Weird, only if they listened to the Beach Boys.

Brooke’s voice was wonderfully complemented by the perfectly executed three-part harmonies of bandmates Curtis Hall, Ron Lewis, and Jeff Montano. On “Torn Blue Foam Couch” The Grand Archives started slow and finished with layer upon layer of vocals, drum rolls, and driving guitars. Maybe it was a contact buzz, but it felt like falling out of an airplane. On “Sleepdriving” the Archives told the story of a snowstorm built upon Brooke’s tapped out guitar line that culminated in a chorus of oohs and ahhs surrounded with sleigh bells and more of those perfectly executed three-part harmonies.

The final act of the night was San Francisco’s own Kelley Stoltz. I like to think of Mr. Stoltz as the Al Gore of indie music, since he recorded his 2006 album Below the Branches using renewable energy to offset the electricity required by his equipment. Interestingly, the song “Birdies Singing” from Below the Branches was featured in Volkswagen commercials in Sweden. Environmental friendliness aside, Kelley and his band sounded somewhere between The Aislers Set and Guided By Voices with a healthy dose of John Lennon. Imagine if Robert Pollard were Jean-Paul Sartre; then Kelley Stoltz would be Gabriel Marcel. They are both prolific and gifted songwriters, who also like to keep things brilliantly simple. The difference is that Stoltz’s straightforwardness greatly varies from song to song, and his eclectic nature emits 60’s and 70’s AM radio influences. Kelley began his set with an instrumental cover by someone he calls “The original noise-popper.” It sounded like surf-rock to me, and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it even more if I had any clue who he was paying homage to.

But just when I was afraid Mr. Stoltz was going to be flying 35,000 miles over my head for the entire night he played “The Sun Comes Through” the title track off of his 2005 album, which is worth picking up just for this track! It was just in time too because when he was finished, it was time to head home.