Beautiful beginning, bittersweet finale
At least the night began sweetly, in conversation with Eric Janssen in the parking lot of the Fox & Goose Saturday night. His brainy pop band, the Lookyloos, had been missing in action for quite a while, and here they were opening for Anton Barbeau and the Loud Family. Janssen had been expressing some songwriter’s frustration as of late; his muse had taken an extended vacation, and he wasn’t sure if it would be returning. But you couldn’t tell from the performance that followed. Singer-guitarist Janssen, bassist Dave Thompson, drummer Paul Takushi and a keyboardist (whose name I didn’t get) delivered a swell set of smart melodic songs in a style often referred to as indie rock—which more concisely begins at Brian Eno’s pop records of the early 1970s and moves forward through Yo La Tengo and maybe Pavement—lightly referencing their 2002 album, Perhaps the Most Satisfying Joy Left to Us in an Age so Limited and Vulgar as Our Own.
Barbeau followed, and he must have been paying attention, because his performance began with the intensity of a Dylanesque jeremiad, shifted gears into “The Banana Song” and from there moved through the kind of switched-on Anton set that, for longtime fans, is like hitting the jackpot. It was a delight to behold.
Barbeau sings with a compressed intensity, his voice often swerving into the kind of pinched snarl that made John Lennon’s voice so distinctive. Live, he veers way off course between songs, into oddball, arm-waving monologues that either knock one out of the park or die like a one-note Borscht Belt comedian in front of an audience of Methodist ministers. And if someone had captured the wooly psychedelic-pop sound of Barbeau and band—guitarist Dave Middleton, bassist Jeff Simmons and longtime drummer Creed Maggiora—that night on record, Barbeau might be much better known.
Barbeau would later join in to sing with Sacramento native Scott Miller’s band the Loud Family, a combo more rooted in Byrds-like harmony and folk-guitar patterns than Syd Barrett-style psychedelia, albeit with the strong drumming of Joe Becker to hammer the point home. The event was a release party for What If It Works?, a new CD by the Loud Family and Anton Barbeau. Soon after Miller—best known for his 1980s band Game Theory, a staple of college-radio playlists—and company began, Kevin and Allyson Seconds poked their heads into the room, where I was sitting in the back. “Did you hear about Erik Kleven?” Allyson asked.
Kleven, 56, had been killed earlier in the day, in a head-on collision in Rancho Murieta. Judging from the bass amp next to his smashed Volvo in the awful picture that ran in the Bee, he was on his way to a gig. Along with Maggiora and guitarist Don Hawkins, Kleven was a longtime member of Barbeau’s band the Joy Boys. From that point on, it was hard to watch the performance, knowing that there were people onstage and in the audience who were going to be absolutely devastated by Kleven’s death.
It’s difficult to imagine a local music scene without Erik Kleven, a mentor to so many and an intuitive player who could dial into so many different styles. Look for more on Kleven in this space next week.