Good and tasty
Up-and-coming S.F. Americana quintet’s local debut was a treat
The cover of the songbook filled with the lyrics and chords of the songs from The Brothers Comatose’s first two albums declares: “Good Times” and “Tasty Jams.” And after witnessing the band at Café Coda last Friday night (Feb. 1), I can attest to the truth in that bit of advertising. They are one of the most fun-loving bands I’ve seen.
This was the San Francisco-based foot-stompin’ folk/jamgrass band’s first visit to Chico, facilitated by local sisterly folk-hymnists The Railflowers, with whom they’ve shared the stage before. The Railflowers’ Knight sisters—Ellen, Beth and Hannah—along with stand-up bassist Emma Blankenship, opened the packed-to-capacity proceedings with a set of their own. The soft-voiced quartet offered sweet versions of some of their fine material, including “Eucalyptus Tree,” “Purse of Memories,” as well as a new song about their mother, and even a swingy little cover of Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.” Unfortunately, there was quite a din of distracting chatter coming from the back of the small room during The Railflowers’ set, with attendees seemingly choosing to socialize instead of listen.
In preparation for The Brothers Comatose, the room got a quick makeover, with chairs and tables getting pulled out to make space for what was to come. Once onstage, the guys in the band were joyously feral, with the five skilled and charismatic players frenetically fingerpicking and fiddling their way through a fairly epic 20-song set.
The Brothers Comatose is fronted by the real-life brothers Morrison—Ben on guitar and lead vocals and Alex on banjo—with Ryan Avellone contributing strong mandolin jams, Gio Benedetti smiling and plucking the stand-up bass, and Phil Brezina offering all kinds of happy energy on the fiddle.
As the capacity crowd hooted, hollered and danced about, the five players, all around 30-ish, were in command of their instruments, continually smiling and putting out an exuberant vibe that made the show seem like a big house party or campground jam. At one point, they even handed out chopsticks, a nightly ritual I’m told, for people to click together and provide a nifty group-percussion component.
Setting the tone were such fun-filled, foot-stompers as “Pie for Breakfast” and “Trippin’ on Down.” These party numbers were augmented by the call-and-response country-western classic “Y’all Come,” and a few slower songs, such as Norman Blake’s old “Church Street Blues” and a brand-new autobiographical tune, “Brothers,” which provided some sibling insight, “We were two boxers in a ring; fought about most everything/ Never really got along, until we started playin’ and singin’ these songs.”
The band also offered a soulful take on The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers” before ending the night with a big sing-along, with The Railflowers joining them onstage for encores of “Bad Moon Rising” and “Goodnight Irene.”
Gaining momentum with a five-year résumé that has included spots at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, High Sierra and Strawberry festivals, as well as opening slots at shows headlined by Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers and The Devil Makes Three, The Brothers Comatose are starting to make a name for themselves with their own brand of rootsy music. They announced during Friday’s show, to much shouting and applause, that the band will return on May 15 for a gig at the Sierra Nevada Big Room.
“Thought it was a fun show, heartfelt songs by a great act!” said local musician Jeff Coleman. “Along with The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit, one of the best bands moving up the ranks from California.”