Sound Advice: Clown tears, bucket hats and other props

Theater folk: The Davis Musical Theatre Company seemed like a strange setting for a folk show. But the acts on Friday night really performed—stage props and all.

Dead Western, a.k.a. local freak-folk musician Troy Mighty, started off with his signature, strange darkness. He wore wide streaks of yellow face paint down his cheeks—clown tears—and similarly dramatic, over-the-top facial expressions. A kazoo was blown pathetically as Mighty shrieked. A bow screeched against a drum symbol. Mighty curtsied delicately after each song.

Some insist that great art makes people uncomfortable. I witnessed a lot of discomfort. On my right, a man shrunk in his seat and scanned Facebook on his phone. On my left, a woman switched between covering her ears and laughing—the kind of laugh where you don’t know what to do but laugh, so you laugh. Meanwhile, at least a quarter of the audience left.

But they all returned for Vandaveer, the alt-folk project of Washington, D.C.-based Mark Charles Heidinger. With heartfelt harmonies, an acoustic guitar, a slide guitar and plenty of foot-stomping, the trio pulled off brilliant, melodic Americana for two hours—with surprising hilarity sprinkled in.

Heidinger began with a confession: Vandaveer had raided the prop closet.

Some fake potted plants sat on nightstands with candles and an old-fashioned phone to really sell the mood. When the phone rang, singer Rosie Guerin answered. “This really isn’t a good time,” she whispered. Somehow, Vandaveer found excuses to similarly interrupt their concert four more times.

“We could have gone Great Gatsby,” Heidinger went on. “We could have gone suffrage movement. We could have gone Wizard of Oz. I mean, there are 38 hats backstage.”

The set felt impressively intimate—more like a living-room show than a concert in a theater. Sure enough, Vandaveer is on a long tour of living-room shows, and the Davis edition was an anomaly. Yet, Heidinger worked the crowd like a comic, playfully bickered with bandmates, and discussed topics as varied as the zombie apocalypse, screaming kids in minivans and llama tattoos. He admitted to stealing song lyrics from Washington Post headlines, and right on cue, the phone rang:

“Um, it’s the Washington Post.”

—Janelle Bitker

Bucket hats, represent: It’s been a big year for Schoolboy Q and his independent label Top Dawg Entertainment, which is also home to Kendrick Lamar, with whom Q shares a friendly rivalry. His most recent album, Oxymoron—a reference to his past as an OxyContin dealer—debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.

So maybe it was no surprise that his show at Ace of Spades on April 9 was sold-out. The real surprise, however, was that Q added a second, late show that same night at Assembly Music Hall, and when I rushed over on my bike from his ripper Ace show to the downtown venue, I found a line wrapped around the block—for a show that cost a steep $35. The line was extremely sluggish, so someone I know who has knowledge of an underground passage led us on a search for a back door into the club. After a wrong turn into the karaoke spot upstairs, we talked our way in backstage and then quickly went down to the floor stage left. (In my defense, I did have passes—I am past the days of scamming in for free with a lick and a hand-stamp transfer.)

For this second set, Q took the stage at 11:30 p.m. with a savage energy and was soon drenched in sweat. A sizable portion of the crowd sported bucket hats in tribute to him—one patron held one aloft—the Schoolboy Q equivalent of a raised lighter. A mosh pit also broke out, but the beefy security guards shut that down with lightning speed.

He killed hits such as “Hell of a Night” and “Collard Greens,” as well as songs from his 2012 album Habits and Contradictions. At this point, I realized was bordering on having watched him for three hours and decided I couldn’t make it to the end of the second set. I heard later that everyone else stayed, and Q decidedly earned that $35. I wager that even if his fame grows, he’ll make time to play again in Sacramento.

—Becky Grunewald