I'm not too fond of "the holiday season". You see, i'm not a Christian, so this time is no more likely to inspire altruism and self-reflection than any other time of the year. Also, i'm not too close to my family. Not that i hate them, it's just that we have nothing in common. I don't care to spend every available moment watching football games on TV, and they don't even know what most of this music that i rant about is!
So i wind up spending "the holiday season" being bored. Everyone else that i know is forced to travel to subject themselves to their relatives. Brendan takes his annual "return to the Sea of My birth to commune with My People". Things just seem to wind down.
So i was really excited to hear about this show. It gives me something to do during this slow time. It features American Dream, who i really enjoyed the last time i saw them, which was also their first performance. Plus, it's for a good cause -- taking care of strays. Even The Priestess would approve!
So i went by myself, and sat at the bar nursing a few beers. It was a few hours well spent.
There were five artists donating their time to raise money for Homeless Animals. Which i guess is the politically correct term for "strays". I don't like that term though -- it gives me a visual image of a dog with only three legs sitting on the street with a tin cup and a sign that reads "Lost leg in Gulf War. Please help." Creepy -- i don't like it, but since the people whose benefit this was used it, i will too.
I got to the venue about halfway through Brian James set. Brian is an employee of The Earl. I think he works in the kitchen -- he's never served me a beer at any rate! Aside from working there he also plays acoustic guitar and sings a little. He has a pleasant enough voice although he seemed a little unsure of his singing abilites. His guitar-playing is competent but not spectacular. I got the impression that was one of his first ever "gigs", specifically because he played a lot of covers. He wasn't bad, but then again acoustic music is not my forte.
One good thing about that type of music is that it takes almost no time to change the stage between acts. Unplug one guitar, adjust the mic for the new singer, and you're off!
So shortly after Brian retreated to the bar for a celebratory beer with his co-workers, Michael Tolcher took the stage. Michael is much more the normal acoustic singer-songwriter. He has a powerful voice, and he filled The Earl with it. His guitar-playing was a little on the minimal side, perhaps because he really focuses on the singing. At any rate, it was a very pleasant performance. If you like acoustic singer-songwriters, i recommend checking him out sometime at Eddie's Attic or the like.
Moving the show right along, Andy Browne and friends took the stage next. His friends, for tonight, included Tim Neilson of Drivn N Cryin on bass (and Neilson's four or so year old son standing on the edge of the stage looking bored while his daddy worked), the cellist from headliners American Dream, and some guy on 12-string guitar. Browne is a good vocalist, and the rest of the band sort of fell in around him. The only thing that i would have changed is to up the volume on the 12-string. Often, the 12-string was overpowered by Browne's 6-string. Again, this music isn't really my specialty, but i enjoyed the set. Nice interplay between the 12-string (when it was audible), Browne's guitar, Neilson's bass, and on the last two songs, the cello.
Alice Muson was the organizer of this show, and her band played fourth. And this was a real band: drums, guitar, bass, vocals. Muson plays guitar and belts out bluesy songs with her loud and powerful voice. Really -- i think putting a microphone in front of the woman is a little redundant! Her performance reminded me of what Kelly Hogan is capable of, if she didn't spend so much time trying to be cute and clever. Muson and her band played normal straight-forward blues rock and did it well enough i guess. Personally i despise the blues, and by this time i was ready for the openers to be done and American Dream to start playing, so i didn't really get into her performance. It seemed to get a good reaction from the crowd though.
Muson was done soon enough, and then American Dream started to set up. It took them a long time to set up, which annoyed me because i had been there for so long. But oh well. I guess that it does take a long time to set up and properly mic a harp! And it was all worth it when they started to play.
This being the second time i have seen American Dream (and perhaps even their second ever performance), i was curious to see if they would be as good as i remembered. They were. The combination of distorted guitar, harp, cello, drums, and David Railey's mopey voice just works really well. I especially like the harpist -- she plucks the strings so forcefully that it almost sounds like a piano (which, i think, is technically almost a harp anyway). Plus, i could hear her fine over Railey's guitar and the drums. Not so the cellist, who was not mic-ed as well as she could have been, or as well as she was during Andy Browne's set. Since she was laying down the bass rhythm on her cello, this was a little annoying. Halfway through the set they seemed to get her mixed better, but i still would have liked to hear the cello more clearly.
American Dream plowed through an hour's worth of material from their album Cone Of So and it all translated very nicely to the live environment. The songs are a little melancholy, but not maudlin. A little jangy, but not bluegrass. They seem to fall somewhere between a classical performance (cello and harp), Tthe Rock*A*Teens (lotsa reverb on that guitar!), and Will Oldham (that whole "American singer-songwriter but not contry or folk music" sort of thing). I was very impressed once again with their set. One would not think that a band with the cello-guitar-harp-drums lineup would rock, but the music was energetic and very catchy. A few people who staggered in from the bar after they stopped taking cover charges were even dancing!
I hope that American Dream keep it up -- the dynamic interplay between harp, cello, and guitar is really interesting! All of the band members seem to be very competent at their instruments, and i look forward to seeing this band evolve.
So, on the whole, a night well spent. Much of the music was in genres unfamiliar to me, but it seemed well done from this shoegazer/post-rock fan's perspective. And American Dream rocked the house!