Gumbiner’s lovely mumbles
It was a difficult night with a wonderful band. Deathray is one of Sacramento’s finest and most popular acts. Sporting the vocals of Dana Gumbiner (formerly of Little Guilt Shrine), the guitars and bass of former Cake members Greg Brown and Victor Damiani and the drum work of Todd Roper (who has been rumored to be performing periodically with Counting Crows), Deathray performed last week at the True Love Coffeehouse, warming up for a series of shows this month and next at that venue and at Old Ironsides.
Deathray’s 2000 self-titled full-length debut presented a capable pop band, polished by producer Eric Valentine into a radio-ready powerhouse. The band’s more recent release, a five-track EP titled White Sleeves, presents a slight departure from this polish. Recorded by the band in its Sacramento-based studio, Brighton Sound, White Sleeves is harsher than the band’s previous work—more visceral, more raw. As Gumbiner put it, “I’d say we’re in a big-star-type mode, where everything seems to fall apart in a beautiful way.”
In the live setting, the band seems to be continuing the direction set forth on White Sleeves. Brown’s guitars are significantly dirtier, even on more melodic pop tunes like the Beatlesque “10:15.” Damiani and Roper present a rhythm section that is more direct than the debut CD material in many ways, again perhaps because they’re striving for a more visceral take on the music.
There was one significant problem with the performance, though, which ultimately lay not so much with the band as with the venue. The True Love Coffeehouse remains perhaps the best venue in town for quieter bands and singer-songwriter acts, but Deathray’s performance pressed hard against the venue’s limitations. The audience packed in tightly and stood right up against the stage area, presenting major line-of-sight problems. The bodies also tended to absorb or deflect much of the stage sound, making the whole of the performance sound a bit muddy, particularly Gumbiner’s vocals, which were wholly unintelligible through most of the performance. A performance of the unreleased “Please” was the set’s high point, in large part because Gumbiner’s vocals soared up above the muddy midranges and reached for a more emotive space. The effect was beautiful and invigorating.
In the face of these issues, one might have expected some disappointment from the audience, but that was not the case. Instead, audience members sang along, bobbed their heads in rhythm and cheered unrepentantly. It is a testament to the popularity of the band and the excellence of its releases that Deathray has attracted an audience that will appreciate it even under relatively difficult circumstances.
The best news of all is that Deathray’s calendar shows several local live shows pending, which will allow fans to see the band perform in a setting perhaps more conducive to its brand of increasingly grungy pop. Check out www.deathraymusic.com for more information.