River City Extension

San Jose has long lived under the shadow of its accomplished older brother, San Francisco, especially when it comes to the music and arts scene. However, this past Sunday night, 6/17/12, at The Blank Club ended up serving as a solid reminder of, once you push past the Westfields and the office parks and the single-family homes, just how cool San Jose is.

The night, though ostensibly headlined by New Jersey’s River City Extension, served as a welcome-home party for San Jose’s prodigal son Benjamin Henderson, a local songwriter who has spent the last month on of an exhaustive U.S. tour with the New Jersey-based River City Extension. Though Henderson was just passing through, he received a hero’s homecoming.

Benjamin Henderson is a big deal in San Jose, and with good reason. Henderson, an outwardly jovial man who, on the exterior, seems every bit your friendly neighbor, has a gift for moody ballads and true-story lyrics with subtle bite. Aside from it being his first time setting foot on San Jose soil (or rather, pavement) in about a month, Henderson was also celebrating the release of his newest EP, Fortunes, a collection of typically tender ballads laced with spots of incisive irony.

His fans were out en force, and they came armed with Henderson’s own lyrics. They shouted back at him with glee, and nearly incited one very happy riot when he closed with a fan favorite, inviting the audience and a few members of River City Extension on stage with him.

Hot on his heels were the exhilarating River City Extension, an explosive band worthy of all the praise and press they’ve been picking up on recent years. A band that serves up so-called folk rock removed from its usual mopey undertones, River City Extension’s live show is a swaying mass of sweat and sheer exuberance. Henderson stood in on bass as the band tore through several songs that made full use of every member of the eight-piece ensemble, more than engaging the cozy but no less enthusiastic crowd. For their close, they left the amps on the stage and took a drum and a guitar onto the floor, and harmonized into the open air as the audience moved around them.

As River City Extension began packing up, what hung in the air was that same feeling San Jose music fans get every couple of years, just as the scene starts to solidify again: the feeling that it just won’t last. San Jose’s music scene has a sad history of suddenly going stale just as it hits its stride – though the acts that night, not to mention countless other bands bopping around the valley, prove there’s much more lurking under San Jose’s exterior of strip malls and commuter traffic. Perhaps if I put it in print, it will come true once and for all: San Jose is a cool town. Bring your bands here. Bring your art here. We want you.