Cave Clove (photo: Patric Carver)
I’m still not quite sure what to make of the show that I saw last Friday at The Uptown. I think that the word ‘eclectic’ gets batted around too much, and I hesitate to use it to describe this lineup of artists who could all be nestled into the realm of rock or pop at some points. However, it is the closest word I can come to describing this free First Friday show.
All My Pretty Ones describe themselves as ‘chamber folk’ on their Facebook page. When I think of chamber folk, I think more of a plucky-meets-cacophony sound with heavy leaning on harmony. I think of mellow masterpieces like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” or Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. To my ear, All My Pretty Ones had a sound that was a pinch too gritty to be included in that genre.
I am not saying them to discredit them as musicians — on the contrary, I found their sound to be refreshingly undefinable. It was folk, but something more — some songs even pushing that boundary. I applaud them for keeping it consistently good. Folk music is so easily played badly, but not this time. Operating with the precision and craft of session musicians, this ensemble played a set that, in the hands of less talented people, would have been disaster. Their opening song, “Outlook,” perfectly illustrates this with its beautifully dribbling piano intro leading to honey-smooth harmonies that were as strong as they were silky. I thought I even heard a tinge of Jewish folk music tradition in there with the winding melody and somewhat pointed sound. Later in their set, there was a phenomenal accordion solo. No one plays a phenomenal accordion solo. The accordion is often a joke; a gimmick, but All My Pretty Ones managed to give it dignity and depth.
Annie Bacon, the second performer of the night, was easier to define but just was striking. Bacon’s music was warm and emotive, but not without sharpness. So often, female singer-songwriters fall into the trope of perpetual lamentation over what they have lost either for their art or their family — even the great Dolly Parton eventually succumbed to that with her bellowing tale, “The Sacrifice.” However, Bacon is not in that business. Instead of bemoaning her life, she seemed to draw upon all aspects of it to build her up as an artist. The facets of her are not at war, but rather are unified to sing a stronger truth. The highlight of her set was probably the song “I Want to Die Like Lou Reed.” Based on a Rolling Stone interview with Laurie Anderson that detailed Reed’s final hours, the song championed artistry and life itself. Bacon’s voice was fitting for the content, and I found myself humming the chorus in my head on the way home. Bacon partially owes the success of her sound to an outstanding supporting band — the saxophone is probably my least favorite instrument due to the childhood trauma of having Kenny G piped into every public space as I was coming of age. However, Bacon’s reed man managed to wipe away that sappily sultry stereotype and produce a solid sound. At the culmination of the set, her piano man kicked back his bench and provided a solo that was entertaining and fun.
Daikon was the only band that I could solidly define as a rock and roll outfit. Though they had fewer people on stage than all the other acts, Daikon was by far the loudest. The volume this trio produces is not abject; they have talent to back up their ferocious sound. They began their set with the pulsing “Los Gatos,” a harmonic sting of complicated visual-inducing lyrics punctuated by a buzz-saw chorus. Guitarist and lead vocalist Eric Shapiro has an everyman quality, but he’s not that guy from your office that plays in a band on the weekends. He’s the guy that guy dreams of being. His vocals are unusual — desperate but in a welcoming way, in a way that strangely draws you in. It doesn’t hurt that he is backed by bassist Shaye Farwell, whose solid voice, like her playing, is criminally good. I’m sick of people talking about decent female bass players as if they were some sort of mythical creature, unicorns amongst mares. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that women can play bass. However, Farwell’s playing is so good it deserves special mention — not because she is a good female bass player, but because she is a tremendous bass player period. Most of their set was composed of original material, but they did play two covers. Usually, when a band says they are going to play a cover, I check out. Rarely does the cover meet the value of the original artist, and it usually just leaves me feeling cold. However, their cover of “Some Sinatra” was, undoubtedly, better than the original with the stripped-down heaviness of Daikon’s rock-for-the-people sound. You don’t have to be a pop music connoisseur to enjoy Daikon, but if you are there’s enough substance there to keep you intrigued. You can hear in their music that they are lovers and students of rock music. This was also confirmed by their cover of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?” Charged and leaning more toward Costello’s cover than Lowe’s original, the song seemed particularly fitting for our times. Drummer Jerry Andersen worked himself into a frenzy, but did not sacrifice precision. The result was a full but clean torrent of percussion that fit the “rile-them-up” mood of the song. There are a lot of elements at work in this outfit, but they all come together. In my opinion, Daikon is the best band playing in the Bay Area today.
The last act, Cave Clove, took the heat of Daikon’s set and turned it way down. This was not a bad thing; the members of the band seemed to be tucking the crowd in for the night. Drizzling and winding guitar roamed through their set, picking up at points, but ultimately settling into its own smoothness. I wouldn’t push this band into the category of folk because their sound seems too disarmingly gentle for that, but I wouldn’t exactly place them outside of that genre, either. Their set was pleasant — dreamy, melancholy lyrics contrasting nicely with more upbeat harmonies.
My only criticism of this band is that it doesn’t truly feel like a working unit yet. It is my understanding that this band formed from guitarist Katie Clover’s solo work, and largely still comes off as a showcase for a singer-songwriter. Clover’s vocals are strong and her singing has that farm-to-table feel of someone who grew the music themselves. However, on stage it seems as if she could have been playing with any group of musicians and the result would have been the same. Her bandmates proved that they have the talent and proficiency to make a greater contribution; I’m curious to see if they will have more presence in the future. They are not a newly-formed band, but they play like one.
Though the lineup for the night was a little befuddling, all in all it was a very Bay Area First Friday at the Uptown — unique, charging, and entertaining.
Cave Clove will be performing at Bottom of the Hill February 22, 2017.