Something in the water: For those who rarely catch local bands unless they happen to be opening for a national act, make Nevada City’s Pinnacles an exception.
Regular concertgoers know there’s already something special in this region and its surrounding areas: Dan Elkan from Broken Bells once played in the now-defunct Them Hills; Zach Hill from Death Grips started Legs On Earth; Joanna Newsom got her start playing tiny cafes and local venues; and let’s not forget about power trio E V Kain and Jonathan Hischke.
And while there are countless other lesser-known examples we could cite without referencing Wikipedia, the best way to find out about them is to get out more often.
Pinnacles are a professional-sounding yet unsigned quartet who have practiced and perfected their craft well before ever stepping onto a stage. Now with multiple albums under their collective belt, they’re a huge draw in Nevada City and its immediate area.
Still, they’re assigned the early slots in Sacramento. Led by vocalist-guitarist Justin Hunt and guitarist-vocalist Robbie Landsburg, the band played a short but sweet opening set on Sunday at Starlite Lounge, ending with a track called “Better than the Enemy.”
Aided by the rhythm section of bassist Jesse Kinseth and drummer Zach Peach, Pinnacles’ post-rock and progressive sound works wonders in a live setting. They displayed a keen sense of dynamics and musical fortitude without sounding dated—like an early Police before that band became a stadium-sized phenomenon.
Old-school swagger: A tuba and a banjo? Count me in.
I caught Crescent Katz’s first set Friday night at Shady Lady Saloon, where the Sacramento-based jazz band plays every month.
It wasn’t just tuba and banjo, though. The full lineup included trombone, trumpet and saxophone. Oh, and a washboard. Bonus points for that.
Crescent Katz is an old-timey jazz band—“pizza jazz,” as the band calls it. Down to the spiffy attire, the ensemble makes a good match for the venue’s saloon feel. This was my first time seeing the band, and I really liked what I heard. Like a flashback in a television show, Crescent Katz takes you back to a time that I’m frankly too young to have ever known, when music like this actually did fill up bars. Early in the night at Shady Lady, it was mostly a light bar crowd, with nobody up and dancing.
If the goofy “pizza jazz” label sounds familiar, you might be thinking of the Freebadge Serenaders and its “discount jazz.” Freebadge’s Greg Sabin and Patrick Skiffington are in Katz as well. This is their bigger band, which released the album From Scratch last summer and is set to play the Sacramento Music Festival over Memorial Day weekend.
As much as the band’s style was a prime fit for Shady Lady, the band’s sound proved to be a little more than the saloon could handle. The band was just a bit too loud, despite the fact that most of the instruments weren’t directly microphoned. Not much you can do there.
On the flip side, the vocals actually needed to be brought up. It seemed to get better as the show went on, but the balance was consistently off between the rest of the band and the vocals. It was the same for the banjo, actually. The poor, plucky stringed instrument couldn’t compete with the volume of the brass and woodwinds around it, and probably could have benefited from being plugged in directly.
The set was full of solos—even some tuba solos and the rare whistle solo. The band ended with a jazzy rendition of The Muppet Show theme, probably my favorite song of the night and I was humming the theme as I left. I’d like to see Crescent Katz perform at a concert hall better suited for live music, but keep an eye on these guys, because they could go places. Here be some cool cats.