I’ll never forget my middle school bully, Allen. (I say that like he was the only one; there were several). One of the P.E. teachers played guitar, and on Fridays, a bunch of us more musically-curious students would tote our cheap or hand-me-down guitars to school with us and gather in his portable classroom at lunch time. I was one of them. So was Allen.
For me, guitar was fun to play, but I wasn’t any good at it. Allen wasted no time in reminding me. Repeatedly. Not a Friday went by that he didn’t angrily shout at me for using my guitar to play “hippie music,” his outbursts usually followed by an impotent berating from Mr. Doyle.
(To be clear, this alone is not what qualified him as a bully. These incidents were actually very low on the list of more traumatizing run-ins I had with him. But we are not even going to go there right now.)
I didn’t get why he thought that was mean. I did like hippie music. Mere months later I’d descend into the evil world of local punk bands, which was probably more to his liking, but at that time I was caught between late-’90s alt-rock radio hits and the ’60s rock my dad raised me on. So yeah, I played hippie music. I didn’t really understand how that was an insult.
On Wednesday night, the Rickshaw Stop was resplendent with the kind of hippie music the 13-year-old Allen would have hated. Local Dyllan Hersey, former locals Song Preservation Society and not-at-all locals The Melodic made up a solid bill that might have made an older, wiser Allen change his mind.
The night started with Hersey, a singer-songwriter with soul to spare. Rocking a huskier-than-hell voice (though that may have been the cold she was recovering from), she churned out a brief but no less magnetic set of throwback folk songs of her own, peppered with some quirky covers. Hersey’s performance cast a spell over the place – after passing from the bar to the performance space, people suddenly fell into rapt silence, and a small band of watchers nestled themselves on the floor to her left. Hersey’s live show calls to mind early 20th-century blues recordings – a presence that’s so intimate; so raw that you almost feel like you shouldn’t be watching it.
Hersey’s antiquated approach provided a smooth transition to L.A.’s Song Preservation Society. Early in their set, they fessed up to their Bay roots, proclaiming to have lived here for “many, many years.” It’s hard to believe these three guys with acoustic guitars can so accurately capture sounds from forty – going on fifty — years ago. These boys can harmonize like hell, layering their arresting hooks over acoustic strumming in a way that hasn’t been heard since just after the Summer of Love. And you’d never know it by looking at them – save for the soaring vocals, all three looked perfectly 21st-century, and even engaged in plenty of silly onstage banter with the audience, an unexpected move for such a “serious” band.
Closing out the night were headliners The Melodic. One of Anti-‘s latest conquests, The Melodic are a new band out of London and their debut EP, On My Way, is about as infectious as they come. A cavalcade of world influences with a strong backbone of traditional British folk, The Melodic are – please pardon the pun – on their way. Check out the title track below, and get ready because it’s about to be stuck in your head for the next 48 hours.
However, Song Preservation Society were a hard act to follow — after they exited to adoring cheers from old friends, The Melodic was somewhat deflating. The buoyant atmosphere of their EP was strangely absent, and though their laid-back demeanor may have just been a side effect of their folksy roots, after such strong showings by earlier performers it felt a little lackluster. Though it wasn’t for lack of trying: Plenty of oddball instruments (melodicas, autoharps, charangos) were on the front lines that night, and members Rudi Schmidt and Lydia Samuels took some time out mid-set to stage a brief but silly melodica-off between members. But that’s the way it goes with hippie music: at first you wonder if you should be self-conscious about it, then eventually you allow yourself to revel in it. And Allen can just deal with it.