My former hometown once boasted a flying-saucer cult called the One World Family. Its principal recruiting vehicle was a band named Quazar, the idea being that casual listeners would get zapped with seductive cosmic music rays channeled from the mother ship via the band and would join the cult. Unfortunately, Quazar sounded more like old Jefferson Airplane than Sun Ra’s Arkestra or Parliament Funkadelic—two acts that successfully channeled the mothership—and so more of us snickered rather than signed up.
If Quazar had sounded anything like Dame Satan, the San Francisco quartet that just played the Wednesday-night Americana Ramble at Marilyn’s on K, I might be translating dispatches from Zeti Reticuli right now.
Ever heard music that makes you desperately try to remember if you’d innocuously eaten a brownie earlier that could have been, ahem, herbally enhanced? Dame Satan’s music had that effect. The instrumentation was boilerplate Americana—acoustic guitars, banjos, resonator guitars, bass and maybe even a mandolin—but the execution was closer to chamber music meets jazz. The influences, among them British folk, English post-psychedelic blues rock, spare Delta blues and the sort of weird Americana the Grateful Dead sometimes hinted at, melded into an original whole whose presence was rather startling. The four members played off each other like ancient jazz bodhisattvas, and there was a conscious awareness and manipulation of the spaces between the notes, again more a jazz trait than an element common to more straightforward genres like bluegrass or country.
I can’t remember any of Dame Satan’s songs, most of which are on the band’s self-released album Ghost Mansion, but the overall effect is easy to recall. It’s like that time you got really buzzed and played guitar in the stairwell and sang, and you heard yourself sounding like something from another dimension. There are far worse things. (Visit the band online at www.damesatan.com.)
Dame Satan followed Richard March and band, which open the Ramble every week and close it after one or two guest acts play. March, a Waylon-like presence on acoustic guitar, is backed by Steve Randall, one of this town’s finer guitar players, along with bassist Tyler Ragle and drummer Kevin Priest. The energy level changed from locomotion to balloon power after Dame Satan took the stage.
The trio that followed, local favorite Two Sheds, brought the energy level back to at least a horse-drawn clip. Singer Caitlin Gutenberger has a breathy, distinctive natural voice, reminiscent of Lucinda Williams’. Her songs and delivery reminded me of the work of a formerly local visual artist, Galelyn Williams, who would create new works by refashioning old photographs with other media—paint, wood, various tchotchkes and found scraps of paper.
That balance of archival and modern imagery was slightly off on this night; Gutenberger remarked several times that she’d had a spell of flu and that Robitussin was her new friend. But her music doesn’t demand a Maria Callas performance, and the good news is that Sam Coe, of Low Flying Owls fame, is a more nuanced drummer than the harder driving Rusty Miller, which syncs in better with bassist John Gutenberger, Caitlin’s other half.
All in all, a fine if atypical Americana Ramble.