Photos by Tanner Pikop
It was a relatively mellow Saturday night at Rickshaw Stop this past weekend, with members of Mutual Benefit, Dim Peaks, and Dan Casey mingling around the merch table before the show got started. Dim Peaks frontman Niilo Smeds was first to take the stage with his acoustic guitar, joined by Russell Highbee on an electric six-string. The pair remained seated for the duration of the set, as did about a third of the audience. Spectators were sitting on the floor as far back as the sound booth, gazing up at the stage through songs from the band’s Time of Joy debut. After finishing with “Slumberland” and “Mermaid”, Dim Peaks made way for Berkeley bad-boy Dan Casey.
Casey, who also performs electronic music as Yalls, played songs off his guitar-oriented Empty City album, released on Ceremony last year. Joined by Adam Myatt on bass and Josh Unger on drums, Casey indulged in a little “who’s on first” type gag by introducing himself as Adam Myatt, and both his bandmates as Dan Casey. A large portion of the crowd remained seated through the trio’s set as well, as Casey made the transition from electric to acoustic guitar before “Wave After Wave”, concluding with the title track from Empty City. It was obvious that Dan Casey was having a good time while offering us a taste of his mature songwriting on tracks like “Time Stands Still” and “Endless Calm”.
It wasn’t until Jordan Lee and his now six-piece Mutual Benefit band took the stage, that everyone got on their feet. Lee played guitar and sang while his backing band contributed violin, bass, drums, and keyboards. His sister Whitney actually provided the backing vocal and keyboard parts, a first for this year’s tour.
From the orchestral opening notes of “Strong River”, Lee led his band through a gorgeous selection songs from his back catalog and his recent full-length debut, Love’s Crushing Diamond. Between songs, Lee would make amusing little quibs like, “I’m embroiled in a legal struggle, but I can’t talk about it” and “That song was critically acclaimed, it got a Pitchfork BLT.”
“What happened when someone sat on a can of soda?” Lee joked to the crowd. “He got a cola-noscopy.” Lee’s corny, self-aware sense of levity served to lighten the mood from his emotionally poignant music. His singing voice often borders on the boundaries between joy and melancholy, even on some of his earlier standouts like “Wishing”, “Moonville Tunnel”, and “Desert Island Feeling”. If Mutual Benefit’s heart-piercing lyrics and melodies left the crowd stunned in awe, his affable personality reminded us that it was okay to laugh and gave a good time. After all, the bar did have a drink special named after him.