House of Cain, house of Noah

Chris Cain puts a happy face on the blues.

Chris Cain puts a happy face on the blues.

The Stoney Inn has a bit of a challenge ahead of it. It is off the beaten path for the Midtown audience, located as it is on Del Paso Boulevard in an area that may still bear the stigma of the former North Sacramento’s wilder past, even though the area is now renovated. However, it is directly in response to these challenges that the Stoney Inn has become one of the area’s premier roots-rock and blues venues.

The Stoney Inn already has brought such names as Corby Yates, Elvin Bishop, Leon Russell and Little Charlie and the Nightcats to its intimate stage. But the future sounds even more exciting. General Manager Clayton Pounds said that next year, the inn will be attracting acts in the “$10,000-$15,000 range”—acts like Roy Rogers, Johnny Lang, Edgar Winter, Norton Buffalo, Robben Ford and Bonnie Raitt. “We’re out after everybody,” Pounds said. “What we want to do is to get credibility for doing really good blues acts.”

The venue’s largest room has a capacity of about 250 people, meaning that audience members are treated to an extremely intimate show for some great roots-rock and blues acts. In addition, the shows at the Stoney Inn start early—most headliners begin around 8:30 p.m. or so, meaning they are finished by 10 p.m.

Also noteworthy is that the venue has two stages, so acts can cycle in and out quickly. It’s a refreshing change from the regular delay in swapping out equipment between acts on a single stage. On Friday night, the opening act wrapped up, and headliner Chris Cain started rocking the second stage mere moments later, driving the 40- and 50-something audience into an appreciative, head-bobbing frenzy through his clean, direct guitar sound and full, soulful vocals.

Splitting this columnist’s time on Friday night was a superb bill at the True Love Coffeehouse, beginning with a solo set by Las Pesadillas’ principal vocalist, Noah Nelson. Accompanied only by his own strumming guitar work, Nelson’s rapid-fire delivery layered darkly surrealist images onto Dylanesque chord changes. The effect was significantly folkier than the hard klezmer freakout of a typical Pesadillas show, but still miraculous. Nelson even led a hum-along with the set’s closing number, a cover of Harry McClintock’s “Big Rock Candy Mountain.”

Middle-slot act Milwaukee brought the energy level up, bringing to mind Stockton’s pioneering indie rock group, Pavement. John Gutenberger’s vocals are impressive: emotive without being too over the top (again conjuring Stephen Malkmus). This is a band to watch.

Closing the evening was True Love owner and local legend Kevin Seconds, performing songs from his new split CD with Matt Skiba and from his four-track EP Such a Happy Clown. The set was perfect, particularly a pop-infused love song Seconds dedicated to his wife, Allyson (who sang back-up and played keyboards throughout the set). Augmented by Garin Casaleggio on drums and David Houston on guitar, the performance stands as one of the very best this columnist has ever heard in Sacramento, due in no small part to the expert live-sound work of Warren Bishop.