Open in the wake
In the wake of the insane success of Dave Matthews and various other acoustic-fronted rock acts, it’s no great surprise that Matthews’ influence is active on the local scene. It’s not necessarily Matthews’ sound that has been influential on the rock stage (although the sound itself certainly has been influential in its own right) but rather the idea of acoustic-fronted rock bands in general. Matthews’ success (and the success of Barenaked Ladies, Counting Crows and others) has made the presence of an acoustic guitar in a rock setting something that is today a musical norm. (Not that there isn’t a precedent for this kind of music predating the 1990s—late-1960s folk rock for one—but it seems that acoustic rock has resurfaced in a new form in the current era.)
One local group, Great Wide Open (at www.greatwideopen.us), falls squarely into this new acoustic-rock category. Fronted by Ken Stoutenburg on acoustic 12-string guitar and vocals, and supported by Barry Prior on bass and Greg Bullard on drums, Great Wide Open plays safe, relatively unobtrusive acoustic-rock covers and originals—the kind of music that you can easily ignore or engage. Lest the reader think this is a negative statement, this reviewer believes that there is a strong niche for music that elicits this kind of reaction and, in fact, that good cover bands, of a particular volume level, must elicit this kind of reaction to be successful. Covers of Counting Crows, the Beatles, U2 and so on made the audience periodically perk up, at least enough to order another glass of wine from the bar.
Great Wide Open is a good cover band in this respect, as evidenced by a recent show at the Club Car in Auburn, and its occasional originals are surprisingly solid. Particularly noteworthy is the interplay between Prior’s bass work and backing vocals, and Stoutenburg’s 12-string guitar work and lead vocals.
What is lacking, though, is some sense of stage presence (although it also might be argued that the band shouldn’t have too much stage presence, lest it interrupt the social action of the club itself—this is, in a way, background music). Stoutenburg spent much of his stage time reading lyrics from a music stand and little time interfacing with those members of the audience who were listening. Granted, with three sets of mostly covers to play, such a crutch might be necessary. Nonetheless, the band’s bassist was by far the most visually interesting member of the group simply because he seemed engaged in the music. A little more work on stage presence might bring the group up another notch.
The Club Car, at 836 Lincoln Way in Auburn, is a remarkably upscale watering hole, the kind that you might see attached to a Tahoe-area ski resort. It certainly made for a comfortable evening for its patrons, and various televisions fed a high-quality, four-camera video feed from the stage area, meaning that people could watch the live show from anywhere in the bar. Definitely worth checking out.In other news, Anton Barbeau will be touring the United Kingdom for most of July in support of his newest release, Guladong. Many of the dates are in support of Barry “The Fish” Melton (of Country Joe and the Fish). It’s a weird combination and, I hope, a wonderful one. Go to www.antonbarbeau.com for more information.