Listening to bluegrass band Moonsville Collective
play a jam at last night's Orange County Music Awards
showcase about a Tennessee moonshiner named Popcorn, it occurred to me why this competition is so difficult to judge. Not only do I have zero points of reference in my own musical experience with which to compare these guys, but there's nobody in the whole damn competition with which to compare them. Though a person has to appreciate the skill of Ryan Welch
, who effortlessly switches between guitar and mandolin, and sings perfect harmonies with a large band joyously rocking lap steel and upright bass, it's hard to escape the feeling that this band, who almost won the acoustic competition last year, should be focusing its efforts on County Fairs.
Singer/guitarist/mandolin player Ryan Welch of Moonsville Collective
Wherever you stand on the issue of the Moonsville sound (novelty or musical anthropology), the tiny Constellation Room
was packed and jumping as the band finished off a night of solid musical performances. The most noticeable lag in energy (and one low point) came during the set of Preacher's Sons
who went on before Moonsville and sounded acoustically mopey. It's unclear if this was due to singer Brandon Pfaff
having the flu (he announced this fact during the set) or if it was because the band was thin with only three members playing. The lackluster vibe that came of their set contrasted with every other band of the evening, all of whom offered lush arrangements.
The Lowly Spects, a four piece band with keys, banjo and guitar played a folk-centric indie rock, layering pitch-perfect three part harmonies over booming, and jangling guitar. Their reverb-saturated sound was driven by intense, heart-rhythmic percussion and reminiscent of LA-by-way-of -OC band Local Natives.
Before the Lowly Spects was Golden Afternoon-- a pseudo dixieland outfit fronted by a saucy, raven-haired beauty wearing a teeny tiny sparkly skirt. Peering from behind dark framed glasses, singer Elizabeth Fernandez channeled a little Zoe Deschanel, but with brassier vocals. Shimmying, twirling and armed with a tambourine throughout the set, she and her band offered up an eclectic span of sounds including burlesquey blues and doo wop. But there were times when the polyphonous playing of the saxophone, guitar and Fernandez's formidable voice created a muddied musical sword fight. There were also times when Fernandez seemed to be using her pipes to drown out her band entirely or just leave them behind altogether and soar to the rafters alone. This may have been the result of monitor issues (she could be seen repeatedly asking people in the front if they could hear her.)
Kicking off the showcase was the quintet known as Nilu. Named for the young lady who fronts the project, Nilu Madadi, the band played a style that crossed between folk and chamber rock--the chamber coming from the presence of a cello. Though Madadi and her band weren't wearing sparkling mini dresses (there was a lot of plaid), they played a tight set. Madadi switched between acoustic guitar and keys, singing with a velvety smooth voice that occasionally whistled like a tea kettle. She and her band rocked a sound reminiscent of the haunting numbers Jeremy Enigk produced in the days since leaving Sunny Day Real Estate. Not sure if that's what Madadi was thinking, but she and her band sparkled nonetheless.
The crowd: It was a surprise to see the event didn't spill over into the neighboring Observatory. A good turnout of young people sipping on tall cans of PBR.
Overheard: OC Weekly Web Editor Taylor Hamby howling along with Moonsville Collective.
Random Notebook Dump
: The Wahoo's taco truck was outside-- a national treasure.
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