Those Darlins @ the Chapel, 11/13/13, by Emily Alexander
Photos by: Emily Alexander

A good show is never hard to find in San Francisco, but it is rare to witness one where every band on the lineup gives you something new to be excited about. The right bands come together in the right place at the right time, and you find yourself in a state of interstellar show bliss, which is exactly what I found Wednesday night at The Chapel.

Jesus Sons kicked things off with a straightforward, steady procession of jangly guitar goodness. With three guitars on stage, manned by Shannon Dean, Bert Hoover and lead vocalist Brandon Wurtz, these guys let loose a blues-drenched sound that felt new but also familiar, mostly due to a dusty Americana aesthetic. They’ve only released a handful of songs, but they have their raw style locked in: guitar-driven, harmonica-infused rock and roll you can dance to. Through songs like “Ain’t Talkin Homesick” and “I Wanna be Your Man,” it seemed as if there was always someone soloing, though drummer Chance Welton stole much of the show as a one-man party in the back.

Next up, Diane Coffee opened his set with “Hymn,” the lead-in track of his debut album, My Friend Fish, and an archetype of his sound: sometimes soft, sometimes wild, always theatrical. It begins in a tasteful, elegant fashion before quickly descending into a manic break down–the lights went red and Shaun Fleming, the man behind the project, became an animalistic guitar strummer and animated vocalist.

Through each song, from the sweet sentiments of “Green” to the spookier, slinkier tones of “WWWoman” and the reverbed gusto behind “All the Young Girls,” he constantly flipped his switch between a soft crooner to full on gospel choir ring leader, both arms straight up in the air, throwing up one-armed salutes or pointing at an invisible target in front of him. It’s a true spectacle, something to see, and all backed by wicked talent. Through various styles–doo-wop, Motown, gospel, rock and roll–he still managed to sound like himself, and to sound just as good live as he does with the vocal effects on his album. About halfway through the set, bassist Emily Panic (great name) gave introductions to the rest of the band: Jared Walker on guitar, Steve Okonski on keys, Joey Lefitz on drums, “and this,” she continued, gesturing to Shaun, “this is Ryan Gosling.” You read it here first: Ryan Gosling is going to be so famous.

Headlining the night, Those Darlins wasted no time setting a defiant mood with “Ain’t Afraid,” off of their new album Blur the Line. The effortless attitude of singer and guitarist Jessi Zazu was perfectly matched with her curled-lipped vocals, which could be made sweet with its hint of a Nashville drawl if there wasn’t so much sneering power behind her words. She switched off lead vocals seamlessly with singer and guitarist Nikki Kvarnes, who took the reigns on the bluesier rock tunes like, “In the Wilderness,” simmering in bad ass vibes somewhere between Karen O and a young Keith Richards.

Watching the two artists move around each other, trading off vocals and solos, reveals an inherent chemistry and a brilliant balancing act. Very much like their individual vocal stylings, Jessi’s intense eye contact, accentuating her already huge eyes, was menacing in contrast with Nikki’s nonchalant bedroom gaze. Their energies were often at complimentary odds, but they also managed to sync up when appropriate, particularly on tracks like “Western Sky,” when they shared vocals, and crowd favorites like “Screws Get Loose.” They brought the fun with an arrangement of new and old songs, leading Those Darlins and commanding a crowd with veteran ease.

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