Songs, clean and brightly lit

Ever have one of those days, or weeks, or months, where the grim experience of living inside your head feels like you’re the South Park character Mr. Hankey stuck doing the Australian crawl through a rancid tub of gumbo?

There are different methods to deal with said crescendos of awfulness. One school would recommend that the person transiting such a miserable existence immerse himself in music of an uncomfortably cathartic nature—obscenely loud minor-chord metal with a de rigueur “cookie monster” vocalist ranting about troubles seen and unseen, or Thunderbird-marinated blues singers mush-moufing the usual reverse platitudes about “being done wrong” and such, over the most shopworn of 12-bar-blues progressions.

The converse method, one I tend to favor, involves finding music so sunny and captivating that merely immersing your spirit in its beautiful brightness will wash any skanky brain gumbo out of your ears like a cascade of bracingly cool mountain spring water, even if the effect is only temporary.

Which I didn’t know I was doing last Friday night when I walked into Fools Foundation for a show by two San Francisco acts, the Finches and the Mantles.

Now, I don’t hit Fools that often. Part of that may be that I’ve been off the Midtown grid for a while; it doesn’t occur to me to rein my trusty steed in that direction for a night of fine music. And the other part may be the vibe—it’s almost as if Fools is an extension of the old loft behind Time Tested Books, with a chronically whip-smart crowd that doesn’t seem to suffer old San Joaquin County hillbillies like yours truly with the warm and welcoming embrace of a church social. It’s the kind of environment that tends to make me feel like Jack Webb’s Joe Friday character marching into a room full of paintbrush-licking hippies.

I felt like I was manning a stakeout for Blue Boy once again—at least until the Finches started playing. Singer Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs had her mom, dad and uncle sitting in front of me for the first set. She played a Takamine acoustic with a cutaway, and Aaron Victor Morgan accompanied her on a Martin acoustic. Their music didn’t ring with virtuoso folk-music maneuvers, but it was utterly elegant and captivating. There was something quite modern about the way Riggs’ melodies combined with her lyric observations, kind of like Brian Eno revisiting the Carter Family’s Appalachian plainsong, although there was nothing really Appalachian about it; it was more like hearing an Edward Hopper version of classic Americana images.

I could rave all over Riggs’ songs and their picturesque imagery and the feathery way she sang them, but suffice it to say that it was enough to motivate me to pick up the duo’s new CD, Human Like a House, and an earlier EP. It was later discovered that they contain some superb bicycle-riding music that delivers the same exquisite, albeit temporary, escape that the live show did. To use a word favored by the person who recommended the show, the Finches were stellar.

The Mantles, a bass-guitar-drums combo whose set was bookended by demurely wonderful sets by the Finches, had a great look and connected with atavistic yowyow closer to psych than folk.