Bart Davenport - photo by Brook Lane

Last Wednesday night I headed over to the Make-Out Room, admittedly a place I frequent much less since they scaled back their music calendar to mostly early evening shows on the weekends. Only a year ago, I could recall dozens of times where serendipity and a disco ball promised a respectable, if not a standout night of local music on any given night for slightly more than a take-home movie. While I can appreciate any local business’s adaptation amidst the new missionocracy, it still bums me out a little.

Without covers, and an innocuous dj easing the awkward gaps of conversation of its “after dinner drink” crowd, perhaps the bar is racing through a lot more Grey Goose. This is not to say I do not occasionally enjoy some of the fine dj-themed evenings they present, but it goes without saying there’s something a bit more visceral about a live show. So, when I arrive, the astute doorman gives in to a couple who pleads with him to duck the cover, grab a drink, and leave before the music starts. Naturally, the moment exemplified their business dilemma, and kinda made me want to spill beer on them.

That aside, I was happy to learn that Penny Arcade (a semi-monthly celebration of local artists with a folk bent) had been awarded a regular weeknight from the club. In its brief history, the Arcade’s alumni includes: The Dodos, The Papercuts, Mia Doi Todd and members of Rogue Wave and Beulah. Celebrating its third anniversary, and the hard work of its charismatic founder Raul, were San Jose’s The Mumlers, Oakland’s suave music vet Bart Davenport and San Francisco’s nearly one man band (Nathan) Moomaw.

Moomaw, celebrating the release of his CD 26, braved the reverb chamber of chatter in the room with his breed of understated kitchen sink folk. Looping musical saw melodies, tabla and some keys underneath his deftly plucked guitar, the mild-mannered Moomaw was just shy of confessional and sometimes reminiscent of the sunnier side of Donovan as he charmed onlookers for most of his set. I found myself wishing I was listening to him around a campfire with a handful of friends for full effect. The tune “September,” with its quiet annunciations and color metaphors, recalls a time when Kings of Convenience, Iron and Wine and M. Ward ushered in the “Quiet is the New Loud” era with their low decibel indie folk, before their musical “careers” and compositions became more grandiose, and some dude named Bon Iver had to lock himself in a cabin for a year to rediscover the elusive Q.

Next, clad in white from head to toe with a blouse/dashiki hybrid up top, Mr. Davenport took the stage armed with enough panache to give Shaun Cassidy a run for his favorite bell bottom dungarees. If the Bay Area published a folk music Teen Beat geared toward twenty and thirtysomethings, it’s hard not to imagine who would grace its inaugural cover.

When I was new to the area, I was solely familiar with Davenport’s robust, soulful falsetto on various neo-soul cuts off of one of 2004’s most underrated records, DJ Greyoy’s Soul Mosaic. His newish band, Honeycut, embraces the latter sound so well that I tend to lean toward this aesthetic, and feel a little overserenaded by his lovegurufolkcore and retro-fetishisms. Like, I could have gave my go-go boots the night off and subbed in my mandals (Aldo run, anyone?).

As if to concede to my sentiment somewhat himself, halfway through Davenport teased about turning off the club’s famed disco ball in the hopes of stirring up the crowd some. Fortunately, he followed through with a few samba-laced duets, inspiring a few people to couples dance. A slow night for Bart, though, is like a Viagra cocktail (on the rocks) — the guy is a born performer who can somehow pull off genuflecting his way through a forty minute set of cooing folk to most anyone’s amusement.

Shortly following, a septet from San Jose called The Mumlers assembled on stage with cumbersome french horns, bulky organs, an upright bass, creamy amplifiers and the collective posture of a once loved, shambled easy boy at curb’s edge on the eve of garbage day. If opener Moomaw was nearly earnest to a fault, and Bart lavish as a Haight street vintage mart, the Mumlers were refreshingly nonchalant as they effortlessly channeled the spirit of their halfway sad and swaying arrangements from their latest Thickets & Stitches (2008) released on Galaxia records.

While the Mumlers may not entirely escape the breadth of consideration among higher profile indie folk ensembles like Beirut, Arcade Fire and so on, they exhibit a stylistic hodgepodge of old folk, blues and soul without borrowing a riff from their favorite LPs. Lead vocalist Will Sprott’s lazy blue-eyed soul delivery can land sometimes in 60s Van Morrison territory, especially on the piano romp “Shake That Medication,” but then suddenly invoke the distant sentiment of Nick Cave on the quieter, baritoned hush of “The Hinge’s Lament.” The versatility of Sprott and the presence of his quirky band, who are not afraid to dance to their own songs on stage, make for a compelling performance that never seems to try too hard. I may have to learn the way to San Jose to see them in their hometown soon enough.