Driven to drink
Local band ‘thirst’ gets ’em moving at downtown concert
Standing on the sweltering corner of Third and Main, gazing down the row of pleasantly air-conditioned establishments purveying soothing, cooling beverages, I thought there could not be a more appropriately named band for this gig. Unless perhaps it was the Chico Community Band, which was just finishing its set of classic Americana bandstand music to the enthused response of a large cross-section of our community as I walked over to the park.
Four or five generations of Chicoans had spread picnic blankets and folding chairs in the scant and perilous shade of the Downtown Plaza Park elms for the concert, and despite the muggy heat it appeared that most of them were sticking around to hear the performance by local FM-radio-friendly “alternative rock” band thirst.
Led by singer Mike Comfort, a robust, shaven-headed figure who wouldn’t look out of place blocking tackles on the football field, thirst offers up a smooth brand of adult-contemporary music. Tight, stick-in-your-mind melodic arrangements support simple lyrics about love—incipient, longed for, or cherished—sung in Comfort’s soothing and flexible baritone croon. On the band’s local FM hit, “Story of Your Smile,” and many others, Comfort employs a Dave Matthews-like technique of shifting parts of the melody to falsetto for emotional emphasis. It’s an exercise that requires a lot of faith in one’s voice, and Comfort pulled it off more often than not.
By the third song dancers in the crowd were invited to join the band on stage, and a surprisingly mixed bunch did exactly that. Bare-midriffed teeny-boppers giggled and bounced next to tie-dyed 30-something surfer dudes, halter-topped grannies and a grinning, acrobatically flailing granduncle. Quite a sight, and beatifically exemplary of the downtown concert scene at its best.
Another regional hit, “The Way,” perfectly demonstrated why thirst is becoming a staple for local FM radio DJs. Chris Holmes’ and Andy Miller’s guitars intertwined around the dramatic melody supported by Brandon Mains’ fluid bass line and Matt Vander Ende’s solid, dynamic drumming, and Comfort gave one of his best vocal performances of the evening, supplemented by vocal harmonies from the rest of the group. I kind of hoped that in the live setting the band would rock out a little, but on this and the other tunes I recognized from the radio they stuck to the arrangement and didn’t offer up any stratospheric guitar solos or extended jams.
What they did deliver was song after recognizable song, each one just as pleasant and well-received as the last. Not even the horrible outdoor acoustics, elusive sound mix or triple-digit heat could keep the stage-front crowd from dancing. And when the final song, “Into the Sun,” faded out, a round of applause followed me out of the park and across the street to personally slake the band’s name and enjoy its antithesis, Danny West and the Lonesome Cowboys, sloshing out gut-bucket blues and beer-bottle rock at the Towne Lounge.
It felt great to be back where the Lonesome Cowboys hang, but I wouldn’t have dug it nearly as much without a taste of thirst first.