Kudos and Chingaderos
Local bands pack the Crest again:
Never was much for Swan Lake, or any other amalgam of music and dance that featured fluid, sensitive body movements set to lyrical, nonrhythmic music. Well, later a slight hankering was developed, but still, peg me to explain what’s going on onstage with ballet dancers, and you might as well be asking for play-by-play commentary on a three-day run of test-match cricket.
To these eyes, the young dancers of the Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet company, onstage at the Crest Theatre last Friday night, moved with far more elegance and grace than I ever could muster. Even in the nosebleed seats, it was a thing of beauty, the visual component of this third presentation of Ballet + Live Local Music.
Still, ambitious as this fusion of dance and song was, the live musical accompaniment was the hook that got a lot of people into the Crest, even if you couldn’t really see the performers. The set opened with an orchestral Doom Bird, playing songs off its recent album, songs that reached for peak-era Brian Wilson levels of complexity and often got there. Best was “Mood Ring,” a Smile-like confection with a thrummingly sweet Motown center. But there’s still a hesitancy in singer Kris Anaya’s delivery, like he’s still a little too afraid of his songs’ power.
Exquisite Corps had no such fear, and its singer, Bryan Valenzuela (once of Call Me Ishmael), was cranking the arena vocals to near perfection. The problem was that his banshee wail bore a marked similarity to the siren call of U2’s Bono, or—when the chord progression took a bittersweet swerve toward minor or diminished flavorings—like Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. It wouldn’t have been so noticeable, except Exquisite Corps lacked really great songs. But the music was powerful, with Valenzuela emoting over a band with drummer as well as four tympanists. Zara Hayes’ choreography, here a version of the Orpheus myth, was the evening’s visual highlight, and the combination got the strongest audience response of the night.
After an intermission, Drifting Shapes—Ruben Briseno Reveles’ textural combination of beats, found snippets of spoken word and enervated R&B stylings—provided a more modern drift to the show. The opening number featured dancers moving under black light, and note must be made of the minimalist sets designed by local artist Danny Scheible, that guy you sometimes see working masking tape into little sculptures around town. Here, various fabrics, hung on a row of poles set across the back perimeter of the stage, suggested painted backdrops, which were changed between band sets.
The show closed with Sister Crayon, whose music flows from the exquisite voice of Terra Lopez. I have no idea what the dancers were doing onstage, because the power of Lopez’s voice kept drawing my eyes back to her, singing in the dark. I suppose one could make a comparison between the stadium-strength voices of Lopez and Valenzuela, but there the melodies being sung were supple and memorable. And maybe it’s stating the obvious, but all four acts on the bill featured frontpersons—or, in Drifting Shapes’ case, principal artists—of Hispanic heritage. But the music sounded like nothing you’d hear on a Latin station.
Kudos to promoter Clay Nutting and Concerts4Charity for pulling in what looked like a full house, too. I wish I could say the same thing about the following night at Old Ironsides, where a terrific Americana bill went criminally underappreciated. Local duo the FreeBadge Serenaders, now expanded to a trio with a stand-up bassist, opened with an energetic set of witty jug-band originals and favorites, with the Al Franken-esque Greg Sabin on banjo and Patrick Skiffington on washboard; both played other instruments, like kazoo and tin whistle, too. The crowd loved ’em, and they closed with a song about Sacramento, “the city by the city by the bay,” that should be this town’s anthem.
The Whispering Chingaderos followed, basically local couple Mike and Laurieanne Blanchard backed by four other musicians, including mandolinist David Van Dusen and accordionist Steve Schultz, on a set of sweet, mescal-laced honky-tonk. Red Meat, a retro-country quintet from San Francisco, closed the night, which should have been played in a room packed with people. But those who did show up, filling half the band room, got treated to a top-notch show. (Jackson Griffith)