The Miles, Jackpot and incest
The musical joke in town always has been that the Sacramento music scene is essentially incestuous. The lead singer of one band might well play bass in two more bands, guitar in a third and drums in yet another. There is a major plus to this kind of rotation: that one band never seems short a member for long. Indeed, musicians like Anton Barbeau and David Houston have capitalized on this process by having a constantly rotating group of sidemen—so many, in fact, that one sometimes wonders who hasn’t played for Barbeau or Houston at one point or another.
This process is also what makes the Miles interesting. It is basically a band formed of sidemen. Garin Casaleggio is widely regarded as one of the best drummers in town, his soft-touch playing having complemented David Houston’s live show for years. Bassist Shawn Hale is a refugee from one of Barbeau’s thousand and one backing bands. And David Brockman (“Brocky” to his friends) was a member of Jackpot, Go National and Houston’s backing band before deciding to devote more time to his own music.
However, one wonders how much of a band the Miles actually is. Last weekend at Old Ironsides, it appeared that the Miles was essentially Brockman’s backing band, albeit under a different guise. This is not to say that the band’s sound is problematic—much to the contrary. Brockman’s songwriting focuses pop and indie-rock elements into some memorable three-minute numbers, and having Hale and Casaleggio behind him really makes the material shine. But is it really a band or just Brockman with a more regular stable of musicians supporting him? For that matter, what is a band?
This is a question further complicated by headlining act Jackpot. With the recent departure of bassist Sheldon Cooney from the band, Jackpot found itself briefly without a bass player. Enter former Far and current Milwaukee member John Gutenberger, who has taken up bass duties as a full-time member of Jackpot. What this means is that Jackpot now features three of the area’s best songwriters in the same band: Gutenberger, Lee Bob Watson and Rusty Miller.
The mind boggles! What great songs will come from the presence of such songwriting muscle all collected under one roof? But wait; perhaps nothing will come of it at all. After all, Jackpot is the songwriting outlet for Miller. What that can mean is that people like Watson, who, in this reviewer’s opinion, is perhaps one of the most interesting performing songwriters in the area, writes little to no music under the Jackpot label. Perhaps Gutenberger will make the same decision.
Ultimately, though, this is in keeping with one of the major trends of rock music—that there are very few bands anywhere that truly write music collectively. For the most part, songwriting tends to be a solitary art with a single, strong personality bringing music and lyrics to the band for arranging and shaping. The frustrating element is wondering what a Brockman/Casaleggio/ Hale- or a Gutenberger/ Miller/Watson-penned song would sound like. One hopes for brilliance upon brilliance, but then it’s all in the imagination. At least for now.