Sometimes it’s all in your head
One problem a person writing about music occasionally encounters has to do with the state of mind they’re in when they walk in the door. Put simply, we’re at the mercy of our moods. And sometimes, when a wicked funk descends like a thundercloud, triggered by something that has nothing to do with present circumstances, it becomes hard to avoid what 19th-century English philosopher Herbert Spencer once called “contempt prior to investigation.”
So here I was at the Fox & Goose on Saturday night, sitting along the back wall of the bar area, ruminating over some mild psychic pain and feeling the first bitter twinges of a late-summer cold. Be Brave Bold Robot (www.bebraveboldrobot.com) was setting up to play at the room’s other end.
Oh no, I thought. It’s that interminable sea-shanty band again.
Then they started playing. Singer-songwriter Dean Haakenson was a can’t-miss presence behind the mic, like a big hypersmart kid who’d just discovered, for the first time, the extroverted ebullience a few beers could give him. He banged away on an overlarge acoustic guitar, alternating between furious strumming and delicious weird chord voicings from the Steely Dan school of arty pop, while keyboard player Brian Jackson and drummer Tony Ledesma provided a backdrop; other band members took the night off.
As a songwriter, Haakenson can paint complex word pictures; melodically, his stuff doesn’t grab me as much. From a high-school POV, it’s more drama department than parking lot. A 1970s-genesis West Virginia band named Crack the Sky came to mind, which isn’t a bad thing.
Midway through the show, still feeling the funk and obsessively counting the ratio of beards to clean-shaven chaps in the pub, a woman named Rocky sat down across the table from me. “This is my favorite band!” she gushed, and then proceeded to sing along with each song. Oy. Now this, theoretically, might make me start calculating the distance between here and the Golden Gate Bridge, but instead it broke the spell. After a suppressed case of giggles, the Bold Robot won me over. And any band that ends with Malvina Reynolds folkie classic “Little Boxes” is all right.
Next up was the Jason Roberts Band. Fortunately, the electric guitar-bass-drums format, with local music writer Roberts alternating between clean minimalist lines and skronky, psychedelic soloing on his Stratocaster, supported by Chad Wilson on bass and Greg Aaron on drums, came as a nice counterpoint to the more Byzantine folkish prog of Bold Robot. The trio’s sound was like a welcome blast of cool, monochromatic basement air, akin to hearing Television hampered by a delightful cough-syrup buzz. At one point, Roberts mentioned that it was the lineup’s first show.
And speaking of beards, Roberts’ writer-musician pal Christian Kiefer showed up during several numbers to shake the maracas. Kiefer, whose Civil War-style facial scrub would look right proper on a package of cough drops, may appear to be a railroad enthusiast, but his coolly precise percussive shakes really defined those songs he deigned to accompany. A master.
After some impromptu inebriated beatboxing from Haakenson, who booked the show, Not an Airplane (www.myspace.com/notanairplanemusic) began playing. Normally a trio, the band was reduced to singer-guitarist Nick Shattell and drummer Dave Rogers, kind of a Mississippi hill-country version. Shattell, who recently moved here from Modesto (where Rogers and bassist Jared Neilson still reside), has a smoky voice and bearish demeanor that reminded me of Damon Wyckoff from the much-missed Amador County band Forever Goldrush. Shattell’s songs aren’t quite as stellar as Wyckoff’s are; he’s more rooted in conventional singer-songwriter forms, although a cover of the Flaming Lips’ “Vaseline” provided a nice surprise.