Yolo Brewing Company
1520 Terminal Street, West Sacramento, Cal. 95691
Friday, July 21, 2017.
On the occasion of the one-year anniversary of this show ~
Warming up the expansive pub room with the opening theme from Stallone’s Rocky on the sound system, Kurzweil Pearl, a West Sacramento five-piece known alternately — when they use a banner — as Mask, continuing their long succession of Band In The Beer Hall events, entered from stage right, and slammed straight into an unusually synth-dommed “There’s Only One Way to Rock”, from the 1981 LP Standing Hampton, by a guitar s(l)inger with the same initials who badmotorscootered his way up from a foundational, and rudimentary, rock record, eight years prior. Supported from beneath by Natalie Chrisman’s meaty bass rumble; and serious dentition of well-controlled guitar leads from stage left, Jacob Stewart’s wicked solo manifests later in the number; their selection an apt tone-setter for a consistently hardrock-tanged, and more often than not, fanged, set of epic duration. Continuing the Sammy thread, and with little room for even applause, they went, thick with guitar chugga, over to a Van Hagar ballad from 1986, the band by this point already evidencing the practiced hand of tight cohesion more so than a lot of too-carefree adult bar bands; and when you’re playing covers, you can’t hide any nonchalance, not even rock that swaggeringly rhymes with… — ah, let’s just leave it at rock. Moving right along, Jacob whammies us a solo, vouchsafing competent show-off chops, even though the track itself isn’t in the category of songs-with-flash, it’s a number by Eddie & Co.; so the obligation is there. Jacob matches Eddie, and calls him, with capable ease. To the vocalist, meanwhile, Gracie Cann’s aptitude and power tends toward the lower register, a gritty contralto as we’ll see later.
For thirds, we find them owning the twice-released “Here I Go Again”, an ex-’Purple-Mark-3er’s song given a second life as a hit in ‘87, five years later. I’d say they covered the second, as it’s worthy of that preferable rendition, intonations fluently secured on the too-brief guitar solo, recorded last out by the worthy post-Teaser, inter-Vandenberg, Adrian; and Mask thus covered Whitesnake whilst the audience imbibed ale. From there, entering a very familiar tune with a telltale opening rich with piano melody, the guitarist seemed to skip the subtle tones that precede Schon’s early guitar centerpiece; though I did note Jacob’s hands were in position, and the prelude may have gotten buried in the crowd noise; but he nails the beautiful trill-like passage succeeding the word “a-ny-where”, and the requisite guitar neck throttle that follows, into a by-now-obvious hit, still early in the journey of their set, in one of many songs in which the bassist, Natalie, doubles on vocals, seconding the singer in the chorus. Up next, drummer David Chrisman opens the bass-featured wonder that is “Superstition”, the hit in their repertoire requiring the most retro-gearing on the wayback machine: 1972, the side-two opener from the album Talking Book, which finds keyboardist Dino McCord pulling a clav out of his Kurzweil; and if that sounds like a complicated operation, he turned it into a successful one; and you should have been there to appreciate it. Momentarily standing on the drum riser joining David, and, consistent with their set’s sonic ethos, Mask heavied it up. A late-in guitar takes us through a long and complex solo, ending as the clavinet returns — if it ever left; and David brings in the end with his opening stick clicks. No foreigner to bringing the right hits to the 4, next up, if you’ll picture the scene, we’re treated to a cool tune from the pens of Gramm/Jones, Natalie, with her fast fingers, pumping out the intro; then back on the riser for the latter part of the song; when, out of the jukebox, and into the ever-nimble digits of Jacob, a ker-azy guitar solo heroic follows, Dino joining him from the other end of the stage on rhythm. What the vocalist may lack in range, at this younger stage, she well makes up with sheer enthusiasm and stage presence; (though I have to add, since the other four know their parts, it might be an idea for her to ditch the lyric prompts from the stage floor, and make contact with the crowd, eh?). Another of many enthusiastic plaudits follow, whereupon the drummer jets into “I Love Rock and Roll”, saving us the dime. The band runs away with the song; as they do with the next, a certain vintage Bon Jovi number, initially a New Jersey local before it went worldwide as his band’s first hit, (two runaways in a row — what’s with these kids?) opened by by the staccato chords of Dino’s piano, and on into the too-cool twisty guitar-string bits that follow. From there, they beat it to the next number, with a bit of an awkward opening, tumbling into a hit from the album that sold a few copies in 1983, and a pretty handful more in subsequent years; a song in which guitarist Jacob, thrillingly, takes care of guest Eddie’s parsed phrasing, in his faithfully sectioned solo, quite nicely.
A much-deserved break later, Mask return with a near-eastern-inflected, beautifully synth-rich opener, separating the ways between the first and second sets of the evening’s excursion, Dino and Natalie backing the vocalist on the second verse of the Perry/Cain-penned song; then the well — make that perfectly — paced guitar solo, the song finishing with a very cool alternate ending, one I honestly prefer to the original hit’s concluding strains. An introductory piece follows, Gracie presenting for our better appreciation, the band members, one by one, each followed by a quick showcase of expertise: David with one excellent series of snappy rolls; Natalie, an exemplar of skill, rumbling out a short summary of thunder rolls at her dexterous fingertips. Laying out his fine chordage on the keys, we next hear from Dino; after which Jacob lets loose with a quick bit of six-string dazzle; this ending with another member’s presentation of the vocalist, Gracie. Mask is given more deserved applause; immediately following which the crew brings us home to one sweet number, a ballad with all the theatrics and none of the pain, Natalie nicking Sixx-stringed bass-heaviness by dint of four, Jacob with guitar wranglings aplenty channeled from the god of war; Gracie’s voice, at first a little off-key in a not-in-vince-able high register, until she hits her strength in the lows, her voice annealing where the gravelly meets the bedrock ‘n roll; David in the lee of the others as all drummers must suffer, but his tommy-gun strikes not unheard; — now, how do you like that? — and Natalie’s bass, a continuum of rock solidity, underscores Gracie down to Dino’s polished and beautiful piano finish. Another round of appreciation from the audience and we’re off to the well-honed, too-toned tune that had phone’s ringing off the hook in a familiarly distant decade, for which the keysman and vocalist switch places, continuing the multi-instrumentalist theme, keeping the track totally rockin’, to which Dino and Natalie second on vocals, with a crowd sing along on every other recitation of the song’s natty numerics, made niftily mnemonic. The phone call ends, four of the band members leave the stage, mingling with the crowd while the lead vocalist takes over the piano, gracing us with a fine solo performance, a well-lit sojourn across an urbanscape, taking her audience on a short trip through the big city, hitting a nice high on the lyrical likes of “closer” (if not so much on the “whoa, oh-oh, oh”s). With well-spaced keyboard colorings, and easily the best in an evening of tiger-sized hits, Mask follows, in a manner consistent with their set’s unitary hardrock alignment, with a superbly rendered survival from 1981; and heads bop to the hook, all the way to the decisively finalizing crash!-ride!-crash! of David’s well-timed percussives. ~ Then, to a revival of Jinx Dawson horns sported affectionately by the audience, Gracie gets on the riser to stand up and shout something palpably prismatic; and, come the solo, the guitarist, a Stewart, carries on in the full Campbell, string-twisting, and pointy-note tradition, the guitarist making vivid applications to his piece while Dino effectively surrogates in the violin sound. Though I could clearly see every twist and turn of Jacob’s fingers. the leads were often a little muffled, the guitar having been too frequently mixed out to favor the keys. Skipping up to the next song, the band jumps to Van Halen’s number one, the bassist projecting powerfully, as always; the drummer nailing all his parts. As a synth-centric song, from his swivel sound-set, keysman Dino not only carries the piece, but brings it home. Having delivered herself of her lines, Gracie hops off the riser — but not as far as the scene that inspired the song, heh. Unwearied, proffering a rock relic with chorused vocal entry, the band carries on with a glimpse from the midwest, late 1975, in which these five take on the role of six; and no surprise: they’re fully capable. Dino slots in the organ to perfection; and while I never argue with a keyboard/drum call and response, as this song features multiple times, I nonetheless wish the guitar part was a little more audible in the mix since this tracks’ arguable highlights are those so very aculeate solos; nonetheless, this live performance grins. So there’s your prog amidst all the other, more standard, radio rock; but the 70s was the glorious decade of a prog norm, with the keys/guitar call and response bringing that out even more; and Jacob Kerrys on, leaving out none of Livgren’s many, and worthy, guitar solos, making them his own. Counting down to their finale, Mask does a first-rate performance, perhaps a little faster than the hit, with a great keys and guitar-blended bridge; amidst which Jacob smoothly whips off a guitar solo of definitive finality; and David, the man on the sticks, takes it out.
For all the numbers they used up in their twelfth song, they still have one left, and it’s a big five minute and fifty-five second encore of absolute rock royalty, crowned by being the only hit in Top 40 history to repeat none of its parts; — now how mercurial is that? Categorically. Opening the piece, Dino lets his piano flow; then a short glissando down, and the singer enters with the line, “Now I’ve gone and thrown it all away”, in her guttural best, as per Freddie; and one by one, the rest of the band joins together on the riser while their majesties May, Mercury, Deacon, and Taylor finish the middle of the song’s multi-tracks from the overhead; then Mask takes over, and bursts into heavy, worthily piling on the ponderous for the last part of the operatic behemoth that leaves one rapt amidst the rock and roll wrack of collateral jammage.
From a young band in the 13-15 age range — this was mid-2017 — you get far more for your beer than could reasonably be expected. From a momentary fumble or two, they recover directly; and no matter. Mask, when all is said and done, is a tighter, more practiced outfit at the end of the day than a large number of bands on the indy circuit, many too casual to earn more than faint and half-hearted claps; and when you’re doing covers, you can’t hide it if you haven’t got it. Mask has nothing they need hide; — and with such talent on offer, I submit they should annex ‘Zep ‘n ‘Lep to their rep; add to which Gracie has the voice to sing the likes of Sass Jordan (“High Road Easy”), Janis Joplin, Darby Mills (Headpins), Jenny Haan (Babe Ruth), Lee Aaron, Doro Pesch, Pat Benatar, Brian Johnson, Tony Martin (Black Sabbath), and maybe even Jorn Lande (Beyond Twilight). I credit the five of them for not repeating any songs as every adult two-set bands I’ve ever seen, do, (some, worse yet, even tripling); and that’s lame if you’re the fan that sits in for an entire show. So, extra thumbs-up kudos to Mask for treating us to a double-album worth of all-different songs. Their next audience should throw chocolate at them — because underwear is so last-year, and tennis shoes are still uncool.
In summary, whether the band’s setlist, taken together, might have ever been considered an oeuvre unto itself is neither here nor there. Mask, in a consonant handling of their varied selection, makes it as one. Were they to ever pen originals, I’d anticipate good things from their artistry; and more.
The hard working personnel: Brendan Trillo – soundman and roadie; David Chrisman – drums; Dino McCord – keyboards; Gracie Cann – vocals; Jacob Stewart – guitar; Natalie Chrisman -bass. Many of the band members doubled, as, in part, noted.
The Set List:
Sammy Hagar – There’s Only One Way to Rock
Van Hagar – Dreams
Whitesnake – Here I Go Again
Journey – Don’t, Stop, Believin’
Stevie Wonder – Superstition
Foreigner – Juke Box Hero
Joan Jett – I Love Rock and Roll
Bon Jovi – Runaway
Michael Jackson – Beat It
Journey – Separate Ways
Motley Crue – Home Sweet Home
Tommy Tutone – 867-5309
Journey – Lights (solo piano)
Survivor – Eye of the Tiger
Dio – Rainbow in the Dark
Van Halen – Jump
Kansas – Carry on Wayward Son
Europe -Final Countdown
Encore: Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
That’s 19 songs for the price of a beer or three. There isn’t a better deal.
-Forrest L. Woods
(May be reprinted, in full, with attribution.)
Cante Ao Vinho
5250 Front Street, Rocklin, Cal. 95677
Friday, May 18, 2018
With a smile, bangs hanging attractively over her eyes, and guitar in hand, Jessica, and accompanist Giorgi (violin) — both, happily, playing acoustic — ease into the gentle lilt of “Gold Flowers of the West”, rock wall appropriate to this quarry town as fitting backdrop, a mystery of the wine bar’s interior configurations balancing the harmonics to fine effect. The song, casually fading in the middle over rhythm guitar, is a brand new one inspired by how much Jessica misses California when she’s away; a line from which, ‘My voice was meant for singing’, accurately sets the tone for the performance. It is; she was.
Another new one, “Lonesome in Montana”, written for her mom, shows her strong vocal midrange. The evening’s drink of choice, ‘Vinho Doce Dessert Wine’, a white port at a reasonable $8, is confidently well-fettled, itself, and so good, I couldn’t put it down, even made it seem there was an extra verse to the song. Giorgi whips off a short solo, sharp and melodically mindful, and just at the upper bound of ideally loud. The people at the soundboard have everything dialed.
Dreamily languorous arpeggios alternating with complementary single notes open their third number, an exceptional piece of wistful melancholia that Jessica’s recorded twice, in two effectively differentiable mixes. The song proceeds, as many of hers do, like a laid back summer day out in the country; and later, during the bridge, Giorgi fills the role a drummer handles in some of their live shows: with his right hand he taps his bow on the violin’s body, and with his left, gives the upper neck a four-fingered tap, all in a timed-tandem. I’d always heard it was a versatile instrument. She tilts her guitar, calling thus to the muses of the backcountry highways, and follows through with a decisive chord, bringing in Giorgi’s violin solo of poetically aerial tones harvested from the Steinhardt strata; and he finishes off “A Fine Line” with a tranquil downbow.
Strong guitar chords begin the uptempo of the next number, as the violin seconds her into a song closely akin to The Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen A Face”; and if more than a ringer, it’s worth noting that McCartney, the songwriter, felt it rather country-western, making its rendition, here, that much closer to a match; fitting, too the performer’s repertoire of well-disposed songs, romantic introspections of life that have all the appealing relevance that artists posturing dated credos do not.
Imperative chords, building to further solidity, soon adds the violin into another new song. There’s a total assuredness, and certainty, in her playing; and this she accentuates expressively, joyously; while Giorgi, in one of many stringed idioms, slots in an early, short solo. “Summer Weather” is my favorite of the set so far, a minor-keyed folk blaster with a muted violin wah wah solo; and if your eyes wander to the floor, as eyes that are well-wined might, you’ll see a bank of at least six pedals in front of said musician — or more; there were a lot. A weaving violin solo over downplayed guitar ends the number.
Next up is “Angel of Montgomery”, a Prine classic burnished to lustrousness. I can forgive the annoyance of an occasional cover when it’s a track heard so infrequently; and more, that the performer plays it deftly into their performance, as she does, here; and to even better effect, being from the viewpoint, a woman’s, for which it was written. Meanwhile, Giorgi takes a polite background to Jessica’s voice, the latter of whom fittingly hits the guttural on key words, as “cowboy”. A fiddly violin solo appears late in as three more people arrive, give attentive ear; and no one leaves.
Picking up a ukulele for the next song, and, striking some crisp strings, Jessica leaves just enough room for the violin to easily glide into “Wake Up With The Sun”, the track that opens her second CD release. Her expressiveness adds to her art, wraps the audient in the song’s presence; the duo now playing to a reasonably full house, all but one table occupied. Facing Giorgi during an extended violin solo, she’s on it with her ukelele, matches him; and calls it, another in a succession of songs well-pedigreed from the hinterland of country-folk.
Before their eighth, Jessica relates her earlier life in northern Cal, with her dad as roadie, a good tale. High-treble uke chords, sharp, even staccato, open “Best Love”, a slow and methodic piece, working into a passage of lone ukulele, the violin subtilized into a faraway background until we hit the anthemic chorus, the centerpiece of whose yarn she spins out as, “I’m blazing trails with my baby, Some people might think we’re crazy”. When the lyric calls for it, her voice is once again throaty, and she employs it to optimal effect. A violin solo rounds it out, the whole song characterized by well-spaced four-stringed chords, sharp and in full-color contrast, wrapping up their first set. If I had a quibble from the show, and it’d be the only one, it’s that the chorus is a tad repetitive, could perhaps use an added couplet of rhymes to spur the intrigue; but it could also well be said that the song’s very particularity of character compensates.
A break followed; and as I resistantly fixed to make my unwished-for departure, it appeared that, of the audience, at least half were staying for the second part of the performance. To this she warmed up with what, I think I may safely say, is in typical Jessica fashion, galloping confidently into the piece, minor key in hand, opening the door to a winning progression of scales on this second set opener, singing, “…this love’s on fire…” (and whether a cover or original, my quest for its provenance finds ingress barred; but no matter, it’s a kickin’ tune), Giorgi returning to take his place on stage for an obliquely darksome tune of a positively rocked Americana.
A gentle hum remained with me for hours afterward: the wafture from that stemmed glass; the rapture of Jessica’s songs. Looking at the numbers on her event page for the night, either everyone showed up, or found replacements to save face, a rarity for most performances where ‘interested’ somehow equates to ‘going’. Call it a higher quality following: All but one person in the venue were wrapt or otherwise attentive during the show. Looking for more, to follow up on my post-concert exposure, from her web repertory she offers at least one tune I’d denote pure country (which I credit with the twang of steel I’d misremembered, as I found when returning to the song several days later), and easily a few that favor the folk idiom; but in the main, the body of her work strikes me as roping in both of these, the live experience then amplifying them into a rock-and-rolled lark, easily defining a genre — if only a few thousand know it so far. Jessica’s spirited command of her instruments, including – especially – her measured voice, bright, and articulately projected, sees her casually flinging her songs out, so that you receive, with smiles, the joie de vivre her words imply. The old west mule-paced lilt of select phrasing on the ukulele pulls you right into her world of a happy past; and this she passes on to those present. She’s published two studio CDs (see JessicaMaloneMusic.com) all of whose tunes you can spot, in addition to some others on Soundcloud and Youtube. Even the high art-folk of Joni’s strings — guitar and piano — were never this emphatically unambiguous; and her recordings not only set the standard, but the bar, for well-defined notation from ‘68-75, over and above the (adjectivally speaking) less accentuate Judy, Judee, Judith, Julie, Jackie, Janis, Joan, and… — oh wait, Jolene was a song — these by way of epochal instance. I tend to think that if Jessica’s catalog took a trip on the wayback machine, it’d find itself as a reasonably apt companion piece to Cheryl Dilcher’s Special Songs (1970).
Jessica’s estimable recorded body of music reflects much of what I’ve cited here; but it’s the live experience (I’ll say it again) that is, conspicuously, that much more riveting, the contrasts, shadings, and dynamism of every chord paired with and against every individual note; and more remarkably, if possible, the smooth quality and control of her softly resonant voice, mistily opaque, expressing a wider dynamic range, far beyond the scope of what others of her stamp, plying her genre (or any other) are generally capable of; that said with no exaggeration. Timbrally, the twanged accent requisite of country singers is absent, barring a lone syllable or two. Unexpectedly, an occasional bluesy edge to her voice erupts, often melding into a dash of the sultry; then held, just, in check. It’s the way she flings it out. From edged kinetics with swing, to the pastorale, and no pretensions, she lets her hair down and keeps it there; artful songs of the heart seen through a window on the West, old and new, of languid evenings under the empyrean when the heart pines for the wide open spaces and skies; music of the open roads; and dusty, footloose, and freeborn, she alloys the not-inconsonant remembrance of faraway melancholy and secret triumph within her sound, which, at the end of the day is ever-optimistic, the cheer of a pot of gold at the end of each painted number. The heart, solitary and otherwise, always overcomes.
Songs of patient longings, straddling the wistful and the pensive, her voice ranges wide; and, into the warp and weft of her material, there’s even a piece of medieval literary history that fits, satin glovelike, into the theme of her work. Singing, too, of leisure days in the country and hearts fraught, but sanguine, these cancoes, bountifully personalized, lay out a banquet of character, markedly distinct from the lazy, lo-fi, one-chord, atonal folkie strum carried, when at all, by dragging, off-key monotone vocals mouthing naive lyrics; whose old-hat minimalisms are fobbed off by gushing fans, as the new, fashionably underground, thing; the amateur decompositional substance of whose fluff is, to a varying extent, fulfilled by the latter-day likes of Berryhill and Difranco; by early Kahn and Jewel; and into whose puddle, to Jessica’s credit, she seems in no immediate hurry to step. ~ And I’ll be the one to break it: only a mass pharmacopic delusion gives the Fateful Meds any remote semblance, beyond that of a glorified jugband, of actual musicianship, there being a point where lack of sophistication crosses the line from ‘homespun charm’ to ‘unburdened by talent’. In marked, and classy, distinction, what we’ve got here is the blithesome antithesis: Jessica keeps the ‘art’ in artist.
The venue, a partner of the Placer Wine Trail, is pronounced ‘Cahntay Ah Veenyo’, and translates to ‘sing to the wine’; though there’s no question but that the wine was singing to me. The helpful service from the lady behind the counter was exceptional; and I cannot more highly recommend the rich nectar of their Vinho Doce Dessert Wine. While hoping for the return of their riesling, and Sweet Dreams Dessert Wine, their red berry sangria, beckons, as does the apple caramel (which, sneakily, looks like a white wine). Cante Ao Vinho is located, picturesquely, across from both an historic chapel (of 1883 vintage), and a small grapevine-enwreathed orchard. adding to the local color, all on a side street just off Rocklin Road, and far enough from the thoroughfare to lend a sufficient sense of a quiet country air within the city, providing you with peaceful potations, ao ar livre, on their front porch. Their tasting hours are Friday-Sunday 11-5; the wine bar’s open Wednesday and Thursday 4-8, Friday and Saturday 5-9; with live music on many, if not most, Friday and Saturday evenings, 7-9: Do check their calendar: CanteAoVinho.com/events/, as Jessica Malone is scheduled to make another stopover, soon.
-Forrest L. Woods
(May be reprinted, in full, with attribution.)