Local heroes and symphonic royalty

Promising debuts: Last Saturday night Epsilona singer-guitarist Minh Le was legitimately surprised, not to mention grateful, that the band’s release show for its debut EP Thinkers at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub had sold out—before doors opened, no less. He even got a little choked up. But Epsilona kept the talking to a minimum, and gave the crowd a solid, rocking 45 minutes, including an encore that host James Cavern demanded from them.

In fact, it was a good show all around with two killer bands opening the night. First up was Trophii, a new band led by former Voice contestant Lindsey Pavao and Richie Smith. The group performed as a dark, atmospheric six-piece. Drummer Christian Midthun, a tall extra-bearded man who also plays with Cavern, drove the songs with tribal, rhythmic beats, while the band’s keyboardist, Kylie Anderson, filled it out with layers of gothy, ethereal chords. Anderson also provided eerie vocal harmonies with Pavao. There wasn’t a lot of onstage energy, but the group delivered a unique sound for its first full-blown gig, nonetheless.

Former locals and current L.A. residents Babe took the second slot, bringing a much more stripped-down, guitar-bass-drum rock sound. The guys mix classic rock, roots music and some funky licks with a lot of charisma. Singer Derek Thomas’ soulful voice has a lot of potential—and he already has the confidence of a rock star. The closing song “Circles” was a favorite. By the end, the whole crowd was singing along and even chanting the band’s name.

Epsilona received thunderous applause when it took the stage at the end of the night. The band was the loudest of the evening, but its two guitars produced a very cool washed-out tone reminiscent of early Cure albums. When the drummer did go hard, it sent chills up my spine from the shift in dynamics. The strongest song was a mostly instrumental and powerful post-punk encore, which ended in a short, extremely quiet vocal section—making for an eerie, atypical ending for an overall excellent show.

—Aaron Carnes

Rockin’ symphony: It’s not often that people stand up, whistle and scream during an orchestral performance.

Then again, The Music of Queen isn’t exactly a normal orchestra show.

It was clear from the word “go”—when the conductor left stage and returned again because the audience reaction wasn’t loud enough—that this wasn’t going to be a typical night out.

The Music of Queen, part of the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera’s resurrection season, and its first pop concert of the year, combined the orchestra with Queen’s rock ’n’ roll and a four-piece band. They played to nearly 2,500 people in the packed Sacramento Community Center on Saturday night.

For most people, just hearing Queen’s music played live seemed like enough. The problem was the music relied quite a bit heavily on the band, and not so much on the orchestra.

That’s not by itself a bad thing, but I really would have liked to have heard the orchestra used more in the overall arrangements. The plugged-in band also often overpowered the acoustic orchestra—the lower register of the bass guitar and bass drum were especially overpowering and weren’t playing well with the Community Center’s acoustics.

The slower songs were an exception and gave the orchestra a little more room to shine, as was the sweet, low brass section in “Another One Bites the Dust,” and the orchestra-learning arrangements of “Stone Cold Crazy,” and, not surprisingly, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

But the orchestra was mostly reserved for color—sprinkles on the sundae—instead of really utilizing its strengths. There were also a few small flubs, and a couple of areas where the timing just didn’t quite seem spot on.

Mostly, The Music of Queen just seemed a little too hesitant to stray away from the original source material, and played everything just a little too straight. At an orchestra show—even one as different and rocking as Queen—the orchestra should never be playing second fiddle, even to Freddie Mercury.

—Willie Clark