Tone Vendor was a place where weird beards congregated daily, with their expensive ragged-looking pullovers and expertly slept-upon hairstyles. (Is there a guideline for the number of days without bathing that must be followed, lest a 20-something be ostracized from the pungent company of his or her peers?) The recent demise of Tone Vendor meant the dispersal of the most interesting music currently cycling through the Sacramento area. After all, the sheer number of unique shows the store hosted rivaled the Capitol Garage back in its heyday.
What’s still happening—and then some—is Fools Foundation, a venue familiar to Tone Vendor acolytes as a kind of overflow site for shows just too big (or too loud) for the old record-store location. So, the live music will continue, although it requires a bit more patience than it once did. So, too, will Tone Vendor itself. Internet mail order is available, sans storefront, at www.tonevendor.com.
Last weekend, touring acts Little Wings and Mt. Eerie came to Fools Foundation, the latter being a favorite and the former being something of a disappointment. Little Wings has a fluid lineup and performed slow, moody indie-rock as a three-piece band with a distinct Will Oldham feel (if Oldham relied more on rock and less on folk). Frontman Kyle Field has a beautifully bizarre voice, like a warped 78-rpm record—high, interesting and just fascinating.
Unfortunately, Little Wings as a band was just terrible. There’s a certain grandeur to watching a good band self-implode and fall apart onstage (Big Star and Neil Young’s Crazy Horse, for example). However, if the band is actually inept, that’s a completely different situation. Little Wings’ artlessness was confusing to me. The band didn’t seem to know the songs, and Field played guitar as if he had never held one before. The effect destroyed all the emotional resonance of Field’s compositions.
My disappointment is, I’m sure, apparent here. It’s strong because the elements of Little Wings’ sound could make for a great band, but such was not apparent at Fools Foundation. (The audience seemed to lose interest halfway through, as well, so I don’t think I’m alone in my opinion.)
Mt. Eerie’s set was performed as a duo with Little Wings’ Field taking the drum stool and Phil Elverum, perhaps the band’s only real member, singing and playing guitar. What made Mt. Eerie’s set more successful was the accessibility of the material. Not that Elverum’s songs are particularly “accessible” in themselves—this is not pop material—but that Elverum’s delivery was more inviting.
Mt. Eerie’s songs are the sonic equivalent of fractured fairy tales: familiar stories, presented in ways that differ from what we’ve come to expect. The elements of songwriting all are present—melodic hooks, dynamics, lyrical content and meaning—but they often are scrambled into new and interesting forms. Elverum challenges the listener but, at least in the live setting, is somehow careful not to completely alienate him or her. At least for this listener, the end result was a gripping set. Find out more at www.pwelverumandsun.com.