Some Vines, mostly Stars
It would be easy enough to call Looking Star the second coming of Sweet Vine, but it’s not entirely true. The band does boast three of Sweet Vine’s original members (missing is keyboardist Gary Frank Skaggs) and, of course, features Hans Eberbach’s soulful, Motown-inspired vocals. However, there is something significantly different in Looking Star’s sound—something older and more mature. Gone are the jam-band infused riffs of Sweet Vine, the influences that many a journalist likened to the Southern rock sounds of the Allman Brothers Band. In its place are senses of control, groove and inspired songwriting. It’s a kinder, gentler Sweet Vine, if you will. And if you can imagine James Taylor plugging in an electric guitar to do a record with an Original Musiquarium-era Stevie Wonder, you might be in the general ballpark.
Last weekend at Old Ironsides, Looking Star ran through a collection of songs that displayed why its members once were playing music-biz major-label hardball: superior musicianship with a sense of soul one does not see on a Sacramento-area stage often. Eberbach’s vocals were superb as always, and the playing of original Sweet Vine members Nathan Dale on guitar and Steve King on drums was solid all the way around. Ex-Mother Hips member Isaac Parsons filled in on bass; he’s a capable technician, to be sure, but perhaps lacking in the requisite sense of Motown groove.
One interesting facet of Eberbach’s performance lay in his stage presence, which, at times, wasn’t quite what it could have been. Certainly, Eberbach provided the audience with motion and feeling, but at certain key moments, the singer seemed to shut the audience off. During one gospel-inspired spoken-word buildup, Eberbach’s eyes sunk closed, and he ran through a long speech/rant about peace, love and, yes, understanding. The words were effective, but his near motionlessness and his own closed eyes meant the audience essentially could ignore those words and use the potentially sublime moment to order another round of drinks from the bar. No audience should be let off that easily, particularly Looking Star’s.
One looks forward to the day when Eberbach can present himself (once again) without reservation and without fear and bring his message directly into the hearts of the audience, bring his message up directly from the soul and hold the audience with his voice and words as the band thumps merrily along beside him. It’s perhaps a small issue; the band sounds incredible by anyone’s standards, but it so easily could be absolutely mind-blowing.