The Sandwitches are of a beloved generation of San Francisco musicians, a class of songwriters who inspired a truly devoted local following during the mid-2000s and many of whom have since dispersed from the city’s gates to reach new heights.
In 2008, it wasn’t uncommon to see The Sandwitches co-frontwomen Heidi Alexander and Grace Cooper at Amnesia, singing with The Fresh & Only’s while Ty Segall played drums. While Amnesia remains a dive bar with a recently renewed entertainment license(!), much has changed since those days.
Seven years later, down the street at the relatively young music house The Chapel, The Sandwitches returned to the stage to celebrate their final 7”, “You Only Get What You Want.”
But first we need to talk about Carletta Sue Kay, the female chanteuse alter ego of Randy Walker who stole the night.
Dressed in a sequenced mini, a fur-lined coat and topped off with long beaded necklaces and a jet-black, A-line wig, Carletta commanded the audience with familiar ballads of love and regret. Opening with “For the Birds,” the first song off his 2012 LP, Incongruent, he exuded a classic pop professionalism, complete with operatic vocal stylings and lyrics that dripped with the tattered-heart sentiments of an old soul.
Carletta dominated each note with dramatic flair, taking the time to pause and then draw out any particular word so that you truly felt the burden of each song.
During “Cruel, Cruel Man,” he injected the word “and” with as much emotion and weight as the heavy, desperate confession at the heart of the song: “I was a cruel, a cruel man.”
And sometimes his most dramatic moments came in his movements. Before his finale, he ripped his wig off and a spray of sweat rained down on the stage, illuminated in the cold blue lights like midnight rain.
Carletta left the audience stunned, genuinely moved and wanting more of the indefinable show we just witnessed.
As the Sandwitches took the stage and prepared to play their first show in three years, Alexander, Cooper and drummer Roxanne Young cast a somber spell on the night. Their icey demeanor and far away stares were immediately magnified in contrast to the spry lyrics of their opening rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
As if relieved to get that first song over and done with, the trio looked more comfortable and even satisfied as they moved forward with their last cut, “You Only Get What You Want.” The bittersweet tones of Alexander’s voice radiated change, the glassy-eyed moments before and after a cry, as the finality of the band’s future hung thick in the air.
The atmosphere did begin to melt when they played “Summer of Love” and other favorites off of their 2011 LP, Mrs. Jones’ Cookies. These songs echoed sweeter times that resonated in the present. The band loosened up, smiled at one another and allowed themselves to just be. They brought out tall cans and finished a song by screaming bloody murder over the verses.
Cooper laughed as she apologized, “Excuse us, we haven’t played in three years.”
Surrounded by friends and loyal fans, The Sandwitches offered a show that mirrored the atmosphere of their final LP, Our Toast, released earlier this summer on Empty Cellar. Like a wonderful, worthy relationship that’s just run its course, there were moments of stoic emotion, undercurrents of despair, eminent relief and camaraderie, and also that nagging feeling where you’re trying to figure out if the last few years were transcendent or just bizarre or some weird combination of both.
Here’s to hoping they’ll play a few more shows before officially retiring the project and leaving it to indie folklore.