Dead and gentle

On a Monday night at the Fools Foundation gallery on 19th and J streets, a young crowd milled around the parking lot behind The Old Spaghetti Factory, eventually filtering downstairs into the white concrete interior. The stark basement space echoes like a reverb chamber when empty, but when filled with people, the sound is surprisingly good. The musical draw that night was partly local (Dead Western) and partly international (Italian psychedelic band Jennifer Gentle). The musicians were setting up as indie dudes and waifs in thrift-store couture filtered in.

A toy xylophone on a cinder-block stand and a guitar stood before a pink, embroidered backdrop. A strange figure with a long mullet and enormous, billowing mutton chops took his place at the setup. He wore purple smears of paint on his eyes and a brown polyester suit with bell-bottoms. As the lights went down, he gently strummed repetitive chords on the guitar with hypnotic steadiness.

This was Dead Western, the solo project of resident baffler Troy Mighty, who also plays horns in Sacramento’s free-jazz ensemble Living Breathing Music. The crowd gathered, with many sitting down on the floor as Mighty started to sing low, moaning like a netherworld Morrissey. “I’ve got a spaceship in my garage. / It’s been sitting there too long. / I’ll fly away someday … / I can be my own best friend if I need to be,” he sang. Pained expressions crossed his face. Mighty closed or rolled his eyes, stuck his tongue out, tilted his head back, took on slack-jawed tranced-out expressions, and generally looked completely unhinged. With eerie simple melodies on the toy piano and guitar, absurd lyrics and sans-lithium charisma, Mighty kept the audience’s attention.

Jennifer Gentle played next. The band is from Padova, Italy, near Venice. After a couple of albums on an Italian label, an EP collaboration with Kawabata Makoto from Japanese psych-band Acid Mothers Temple led to an opportunity to get signed to a U.S. label. Now on Sub Pop Records, the band currently is touring larger venues to support its new album. This was a rare opportunity to see the band in an intimate setting.

Jennifer Gentle’s set was mostly improvised. The longhaired Italian musicians created lush soundscapes like the soundtrack to an undersea exploration video. Two-part vocal harmonies and chiming guitars mixed with the sounds of brushes and mallets on the drums and lots of electric piano and organ. The atmospheric, psychedelic jam brought to mind early Genesis or Pink Floyd’s more impressionistic live stuff, with modern electronic effects and cool tones coaxed out of a guitar with a drumstick. The band ended with a slow-building noise jam that evolved into a whirlwind of feedback, wah-wah pedal damage and marching beats.

The small, almost secret, show proved not only that Sacramento has a cool new venue in the Fools Foundation, but also that LSD is still inspiring musicians many years after Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.