Saturday Night Hemlocked With My Talented Friends

Saturday night I went to see two bands whom I greatly admire beyond the fact that they are peopled with good friends of mine.

*awesome Californian artwork for gig poster (who designed it?)

The Orange Peels and McCabe & Mrs. Miller who appeared with Ralph Carney’s Serious Jass Project at The Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco. Sadly, I arrived too late to hear the reed-tastic sounds of Mr. Carney’s thing, but he did come up later to blow a few with McCabe and Miller.  The official description of the gig on their Facebook “flyer” reads:

Join McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Orange Peels and Ralph Carney’s Serious Jass Project in celebrating Victor Krummenacher’s umpteenth birthday with an amazing night of Americana Blues Power Pop Jazz at the Hemlock. The birthday boy has requested that in lieu of gifts, he would like 100 people coming through that door – easy! And if all three of these kickass bands weren’t enough to get you out for the night, there will be cupcakes. That’s right – cupcakes.”

We’ll talk about the music in a second, but first, a word about those awesome cupcakes, which were baked, designed and distributed by the amazing Suzie Racho. There were, as far as I could tell, two flavors on hand: Meyer Lemon and Chocolate, and I frankly had one of each. They were AMAZING and definitely merit inclusion as the fourth “band” on the bill. Victor was lucky to have such great sweets on his “umpteenth” birthday!

I’ve been a fan of The Orange Peels since around 1997, when first I arrived on this Pacific coast, and who could be a better ambassador of Californian pop than (Sir) Allen Clapp, the bard of Sunnyvale, CA, who plays the guitar, sings the leads and writes the lion’s share of the material as well as runs the Mystery Lawn Studios where he produces the records. Joined as always by Jill Pries on bass guitar, this gig was significant in that former drummer John Moremen has now moved up to the lead and rhythm guitar (where he shines) to make room for affable new drummer Gabe Coan who rocked with solid authority.

Orange Peels – iPhone shot by Suzie Racho, left to right, Gabe, John, Jill, Allen.

Solid, that’s the word. I have to say this is one of the most solid lineups of the Orange Peels in a long time, not to cast aspersions on former assortments but everything seems in place in this one in a a way that sounds and feels organic.

The new songs from the excellent 20/20 album (Minty Fresh) already sound great on the record but they really came alive at the Hemlock. I was dancing in my spot against the wall, and tempted to grab the mic to sing backup vocals….a good sign. I knew it was going to be a good night when they kicked off with the defiantly optimistic album opener, “We’re Gonna Make It”, heard on this audio-only YouTube clip:

Other highlights included “So Far” and the recent single “Jane Lane” plus their song that first captured my imagination, all those years back, “Something Strange Happens” (from 1997’s Square). By the time they’d left the stage, The Peels owned the place and I was happy to have circled the streets looking for free parking for a half an hour before the show!

McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Alison Faith Levy and Victor Krummenacher’s bluesy hotel of a band, is not unlike the Robert Altman film from whence they got their name. This is music for town hall meetings in Deadwood. Birthday boy Victor (Camper Van Beethoven, Monks of Doom) is the handsome and high lonesome singing male half counter to blues mama Alison (The Sippy Cups, The Loud Family). She’s a surprisingly authentic torch singer and he’s like a cross between Richard Thompson’s baritone and Leonard Cohen’s worldly silver fox. And together, it’s just like their bio says ” a fine mix of blues, folk, and country. Digging at the roots of their rootlessness, these songs sweep out the dark corners of longing, regret, and desire with the intimate wit and wisdom of old friends.”

Alison points heavenward, while Victor (right) holds down the fort. (iPhone photo by Paul Myers)

Here’s a short clip for the band, shot by indie director Danny Plotnick.

Saturday saw them do a great bit of material from their debut album, Time for Leaving (Magnetic Motorworks) which was produced by Bruce Kaphan (American Music Club). Besides the fluidly incendiary lead guitar work of Doug Hilsinger, Saturday night’s set was notable for the sporadic accompaniment of Ralph Carney on clarinet and what could best be described as “bawdy, barrelhouse” saxophone of the variety that would have suited his frequent collaborator Tom Waits.

It was a great night of original music. Oh I know, sure these guys are my friends and typically that bit of full disclosure would tend to nullify the value of my critical perspective. But hey, if they weren’t really great, I’d politely decline to say anything. As it is, I’m thrilled to be able to lend my full endorsement to these musical enterprises of worth and value.

As always, share your comments, stories, complaints, crazy praise or leave little biscuits of wisdom for me at the COMMENTS section on this blog. Thanks for your time.

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