Review By: Elizabeth Maki
Photos By: Nicole L. Browner

Despite a rainy day, a fair crowd showed up Sunday evening for an efficiently run show at Cafe du Nord. Leopold and his Fiction opened, playing their second release, Ain’t No Surprise, in its entirety. While there are suggestions of blues and country in references to broken hearts and trains, the new album rolls out a steady rock sound. Occasionally, this expansive sound eclipsed frontman Daniel James’ deft storytelling and the small string section they brought for part of the set.

The band’s strongest point was their high-wire energy; bassist Micayla Grace high heel danced her way through the set and James gestured emphatically, encompassing the audience and sky in his singing. By the last song James was in the audience, breaking through the empty space the opening band often has to contend with in front of the stage. Listening feels like CCR at a barn dance fronted by an evangelical preacher.

They will be performing at our Bay Area Takeover on March 18th as part of 2010 South by Southwest Music Festival.

Following on their heels, Jake Mann and the Upper Hand played clean, streamlined pop with singable refrains. They performed some songs from their upcoming release and threw in a stripped down cover of The Beach Boys’ “Girl Don’t Tell Me.” Taking a page from The Beach Boys, Mann’s songwriting achieves that balance of concise and direct lyrics that remain evocative.

The rapport between Mann and drummer Dan Baber was gracious and easy – both clearly having a great time. Baber and guitarist Aaron Bellamy ornamented the songs with clean cut, minimalist fills, together creating a listening experience like your high school math scholar squad formed a band and crashed your sweet garage party.

Rounding out the evening was headliner Pete Bernhard of Devil Makes Three playing from his solo material, backed by some practiced musicians. With honed songwriting and rockabilly guitar picking, he had the girls out on the floor halfway through the first song – he even had the boys sly shuffling.