Kick out the Jammies

Musical kids these days have it pretty good.

Back when this music geek was in high school, if you wanted to make any kind of racket with musical instruments, preferably amplified, you had to do it in somebody’s garage. And even then, one neighborhood Gladys Kravitz phoning the police or sheriff’s complaint desk was all it took to end a good party.

Yeah, most cops still have a pathological hatred for garage bands. But today it’s easier to find places to practice, and even the school programs—at least what’s left of them after the cut-taxes-and-then-services gang in the statehouse has its way—feature band instructors more attuned to contemporary musical tastes, unlike the doddering orchestra and big-band martinets of yesteryear.

That is to say that part two of this year’s Jammies, a now-annual musical event conceived by Jeff vonKaenel, the man who owns this paper, took place at the Crest Theatre on Saturday, February 28, and a swell time seemed to be had by all. (Part one, spotlighting classical performers, was held at the Mondavi Center on February 15.)

Now, I’d like to tell you that the show stunk to high heaven, because I work for the SN&R and penning flowery praise about a house-produced event makes me slightly hate myself in the morning. But that would be lying. It was a really good show.

Why? First, the venue. At last year’s contemporary-music night, in the Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall, bands would start playing, and you couldn’t hear the guitars. The Mondavi is great for classical music, but for rock and pop stuff, it’s sub-par. The Crest, however, brings out the best in performers of any age, especially young ones. Also, the sound and presentation were concert-quality.

Second, the talent. Given talent-fishing expeditions like American Idol, you might think the cringe factor would be high. Not so. Highlights included a couple of surprisingly good emo-punk bands, Five Minute Ride and Gooser, along with a few charismatic solo performers: violinist Sasha Tkacheff; singer Jennifer Mancuso (backed by Adrian Bourgeois, who also played drums in a Red Hot Chili Peppers-like band called Ruckus); and a slightly off-center singer named Madelyn Covey, who looked like a young Barbara Manning and played a severely angular Gibson Explorer-like guitar and sang an offbeat love song to Captain Kirk’s leftover dates. Fairman & Friends, who won the audience poll, were especially impressive. Having seen Christopher Fairman play solo, it was pleasantly shocking to hear his pastoral singing and guitar strumming framed by Dave DeMuri’s evocative piano playing and Jon McHenry’s drumming. And last year’s standout, beatboxer Leejay Abucayan, pretty much brought the house down.

Yes, there was a bit of unevenness in places. But, for most of the show, the surprise was how many of these young players were ready for prime time.