Fewer covers and more whiskey, please

Humbling: Indie rock band Humble Wolf is undeniably popular in local circles. Shady Lady Saloon was packed last Friday night for the band’s release party of Black and White.

The four-piece sound checked with a Maroon 5 song. I was slightly confused, but then Humble Wolf started its first set with the Lumineers’ “Hey Ho.” Cheesy covers continued. Many Black Keys songs were attempted. The opening guitar line to “Gold on the Ceiling” sounded painfully off.

Maybe it was the sound system. Maybe it was the whiskey in my hand. I don’t know. I wanted to leave.

But everyone else in the bar was having a great time. I started to second-guess myself. Surely, Humble Wolf would come out for its second set with all originals, and the band would sound better, and everything would be just fine.

Second set, second whiskey. More covers. Rebecca Peters, local singer-songwriter with a lovely bluesy, soulful tone, jumped on stage. Too bad no one could hear her.

Truly, too bad all around. I actually thoroughly enjoy “Black and White,” the title track of Humble Wolf’s new record. It’s a simple, catchy, mainstream-friendly rock song—definitely can hear the Black Keys influence—and I looked forward to hearing it live. Alas, I knew I couldn’t last another hour and a half. And maybe I should have given my spot up earlier—the band stated on Facebook the next day that fans were waiting upwards of 45 minutes to get inside.

Oh, yes: I have a new, small obsession. It’s Olivia Rose’s strange voice, of the band Oh, Rose. The Olympia, Wash.-based trio played a downtown Davis living room last Saturday along with Jules Baenziger of Sea of Bees. Michael Leahy of Crossbill Records hooked it up, and some former KDVS managers-now-roommates worked the sound system. Impressive all around.

Oh, Rose plays a low-fi, psychedelic, indie sort of rock. But then Rose contorts her voice into notably un-pretty, marvelous, folky screeching, and it all sounds sort of punk-lite. Awesome.

Then Baenziger sat on an amp with her acoustic guitar and lulled a crowded house of cross-legged fans into pure bliss. “The most intimate set I’ve ever experienced” was a phrase thrown around a lot on social media afterward.

The best part? More hints about her third album Build a Boat to the Sun due early this summer. She played a few songs from it, including a moving, innocent number called “My Dads Song.” (Or potentially “My Dad’s Song.” We’ll see on the record, won’t we?)

“This is what my album is,” she said. “It’s about friendship and my family and my life.”

Simple themes, some hippie stuff—staring at the magnificence of Big Sur, for example—and sweetness.

“It took me a long time to learn how to write again,” she noted about the three-year gap between Build a Boat to the Sun and Orangefarben, “where you just enjoy yourself.”

Wordy music: Once every two years, UC Davis puts on a big, themed music festival, spanning several days and multiple venues. The 2015 edition, the Music and Words Festival, will explore the relationship between utterances, tones and meaning.

It starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 27, with a two-hour event that’s one part of sound artist David Coll’s latest project, Construction. The event itself inside the Nelson Gallery will feature some sort of live performance, which will later be morphed into an interactive art installation, to be enjoyed all week at the Mondavi Center. The big question: does physical presence matter anymore?

Not every event during Music and Words promises to be so intellectually heady. Though there will be an intense performance by Bob Ostertag, professor in technocultural studies, at 10 p.m., January 30. His electronic soundscape was built from a recording of a young boy burying his father during the Salvadoran Civil War. It’s free but ticketed, taking place in the smaller Vanderhoef Studio Theatre.

But the highlight is SO Percussion, performing three different sets on three different days. The New York percussion quartet bangs on just about anything—glockenspiel, pipes, bells, bowed marimba, coffee mug, amplified cactus—and performs pieces by the likes of John Cage as well as originals.

For information on all these shows and more, visit http://arts.ucdavis.edu/music-and-words. Do watch the SO Percussion NPR Tiny Desk Concert, if nothing else.