On with the Americana

Some people still give me a hard time for my Mark Trail obsession, but occasionally I’ll run into someone who’s also a fan of the comic strip’s glacially moving storyline and apparent lack of irony. At the Fox & Goose last Friday night, one was sitting at my table. So for you Trailheads and other comics fans, here’s a tip: The Comics Curmudgeon (www.joshreads.com) is a site that tracks the adventures of Mark, Cherry, Rusty and Andy the lovable St. Bernard, along with a bunch of other comics you love to hate.

That night at the Fox & Goose, Americana was the featured theme. The show opened with Jake Mann, formerly of the Davis-based Zim-Zims, playing songs from his forthcoming CD on electric guitar, backed by a violinist. Mann sounded like he’s onto a good thing, but it was hard to focus because one problem with the venue is that there are often stragglers from happy hour still populating the booths, and some of their pint-fueled conversations can overpower a quieter performer. But Mann brought in a dozen friends, some of them wearing homemade Jake Mann T-shirts. Cute.

For the second act, the San Francisco-based quartet Last of the Blacksmiths, the venue’s problematic nature became acute. The Blacksmiths echo the Band, as in Music from Big Pink, performing—all of them sitting down—with the kind of churchy intimacy that requires a rapt audience to buy into that particular magic. When half the crowd is getting a heat on and in animated conversation, the spell-making doesn’t work as well. But the band does have some ardent local fans, including members of Jackpot and Two Sheds.

The evening’s surprise guest was Mitch Easter, the North Carolina producer (R.E.M.) and performer (Let’s Active) whose oeuvre is a cornerstone of 1980s indie rock. Easter, in a power-trio setting, plugged his Rickenbacker 360 in and let loose with some guitar tones that provided a nice come-to-Jesus moment for the imbeciles who talked through the preceding two acts.

But I’d come to see the headliner, Ghosts of California. Until this night I’d never really grasped the essence of this Americana quartet, with Scott McChane and Jay Shaner on guitars, Bryce Gonzales on bass and James Neal on drums. But the band’s all-too-short set illuminated its songs—melodic gems from the post-Uncle Tupelo school of country-flavored rock, many from its five-song EP on local indie Are You Alive Records—with the kind of guitar architecture more commonly associated with bands like Television or, going back to the 1960s, Quicksilver Messenger Service. Shaner’s guitar work, in particular, really stood out nicely. Can’t wait for the full-length CD.

Oh, and if you’re reading this before Thursday night, April 5, and you’re in the mood to check out one of the hotter woman rockers making the rounds, then get your tochis over to Old Ironsides to see Amy Cooper, who’s headlining a bill with local singer Liani Moore and Radio Astronomy. Cooper, a Northern Californian who now lives in Los Angeles, plays here fairly often. The last time she came through, in February, I bought her recent and thoroughly rocking EP, Mirrors. It hasn’t left my car’s CD changer since. Show starts at 9 p.m., cover’s $6. Be there, already.