Last Night: New Folk Rock Supergroup The Emerald Triangle
The Emerald Triangle
Monday, Nov. 2, 2009
Better than: Watching Vetiver open for Chris Robinson's Wooden Family open for Jonathan Rice open for Ryan Adams open for Interpol.
"We're aware that this is a very strange thing," Vetiver front man Andy Cabic announced from the stage last night, his eyes tucked under a floppy brown hat. "It's a thing that doesn't really exist outside of here."
It was the San Francisco songwriter's way of explaining that the band he was performing with, the mostly Southern California-based Emerald Triangle, is non-traditional in every sense of the word. The group's MySpace page doesn't have songs, only a cryptic greeting promising that the Emerald Triangle tour "will melt your face off." The "new musical expedition" offers a set list of material that the five players wrote completely separately from one another. And the Independent show was only the second time these musicians had performed together before an audience. It was a special situation, one that could really go either way. Instead of falling apart, though, The Emerald Triangle was the polished '70s-leaning folk/rock supergroup that, as one observer near me put it, came off even better than the sum of its parts.
For the next 90 minutes after Cabic's introduction, the five woodsy-by-way-of-Laurel Canyon looking musicians showed fans the myriad strengths between them. Along with Cabic on guitar, the group comprised guitarist Jonathan Wilson, a songwriter who plays with Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes (the drummer, who wasn't introduced, also plays with Robinson); guitarist Jonathan Rice, whose solo work put him on the map with the folk- and indie-pop set; solo artist and bassist Neal Casal, who plays with Ryan Adams and the Cardinals; and the dude who pulled the whole concept together, pedal steel and keyboard player Farmer Dave Scher, who has joined the ranks of Beachwood Sparks, Interpol, and Elvis Costello's band over the years.
The night moved between the Emerald's members' originals and one cover (a fitting tune for a double-Jonathan lineup, "The Trials of Jonathan" by Happy & Artie), each player taking a turn on vocals and each song giving the evening a fresh new dynamic.
Wilson was the biggest psych head of the bunch (before the encore, he asked the small assembled crowd half-jokingly, "Is anyone tripping balls yet?"). His songs opened up into four or five different mini numbers, reaching into crunchy Neil Young-style anthems and out toward sprawling riffs heavily influenced by Santana and Pink Floyd. Everything Wilson played sounded epic, like the finale to a set that just kept growing. His only flaw came in the slightly cheesy lyrics (like one describing the "silvery moonlight") that undermined the kaleidoscopic testosterone coursing through his music.
The band jumped between such different material, the performance never grew stale. And by the end, you got a sense of how each player fell into place. Rice was, as my friend put it, the radio hit maker of the bunch, his songs tight, upbeat, and extremely poppy. Cabic's tunes were tender, pastoral ballads given extra bite with electric guitar jams. Wilson was the acid rocker whose songs roamed free. And Farmer Dave was the wild card of the bunch. For being Emerald's organizer, he only contributed two songs, both of which went heavy on the reverb. He wrote the last song of the night, a stony shoegazing finale that overwhelmed the ears with washes of dreamy guitar distortion.
Although the Independent was way undersold (only about 150 people showed up last night, and many took advantage of the candle-lit tables for seating) the performance was a big success artistically. The whole event could've fit into a smaller club, but the sound and lighting gave the gig a bigger, almost arena-style vibe, making their well-crafted hits sound all the better inside in the venue.
As promised, minds were melted, new musical ground covered, and a special sort of concert was cultivated, one that merged the thrill of surprise with the sure bet of solid songwriting chops.
By the way: This tour was promoted by (((FolkYeah))), the Monterey-based outfit responsible for shows in San Francisco, Big Sur, and the Brookdale Lodge near Santa Cruz. Most, if not all, of Emerald Trianlge's players have performed under the Highway 1 pines at some point thanks to (((FolkYeah)))--let's hope this fledgling supergroup of sorts makes it to the Fernwood stage one of these days.