Don’t call them super

In Sacramento, the idea of a music supergroup is somewhat laughable. After all, the music scene here is insular, with the Midtown crowd being particularly incestuous. The same bands perform on the same bills over and over and over again, often sharing members between them. (Not that I’m suggesting that’s a negative occurrence. One grows to seek out such shows, where the vibe can be something like running into old friends on a weekly basis.)

So you should immediately disavow yourself of calling Ghosts of California a supergroup. Sure, each of the collected members possesses a straight-down-the-middle Midtown musician’s pedigree, and every member is “known” (at least within the confines of that same Midtown songwriter set). Take the two principal songwriters: Scott McChane and Jay Shaner. McShane, once of the Mac Swanky Trio, is a singer-songwriter in his own right who is completing his first full-length album after a series of EPs. (The latest of which is aptly titled The Angels of Madness Shine.) Shaner, once of Infinite Martini, is now a solo singer-songwriter who presented his debut full-length CD, Heavy Early, earlier this year.

The collaboration is an interesting one, and one that has been brewing for some time—initially through a meeting at the Hangar, the studio where McChane occasionally engineers and where Shaner recorded Heavy Early, and later with “Mood Swing Wednesdays” at Luna’s Cafe, where McChane and Shaner held court with a different guest musician each night.

Lest you think that’s enough, the duo is rounded out with bass work from Bryce Gonzales, formerly of Red Star Memorial, and drumming from Dave Middleton, formerly of both SquishTheBadMan and the Famous Celebrities. (I didn’t even know Middleton played drums.)

McChane is a quiet, sensitive-sounding vocalist who, in most performing situations, hunches down around his guitar as if trying to burrow into his own navel. One of the most surprising aspects of Ghosts of California is seeing McChane actually stand up, sing toward the audience and occasionally shout—all things he hasn’t really done since the Mac Swanky days.

Ghosts of California is a new band; its performance last weekend at the Blue Lamp with Anton Barbeau and Dave Gleason’s Wasted Days was the second ever. Truthfully, there is still some clunkiness in the Ghosts’ live show. For one, the songs often seemed too long. I also found myself wondering why the two singers never sang together; they both seem quite capable of it. The performance also had a stiffness that negated the Replacements-like groove the band seemed to be reaching for. Only Gonzales seemed right at home with the material.

A year from now, Ghosts of California might be a force to be reckoned with. In the meantime, fans will have to wait some time to hear them again, as McChane is off to play some dates in England in November.

Speaking of England, there’s much to say about Barbeau’s recent trips to the United Kingdom, but that will need to wait until next week, as will news of the new True Love Coffeehouse location, which I’ve finally been able to see. Tune in next week.