Submitted by Craig Havighurst on May 18, 2013 – 13:55
You have to salute a band that carries, loads and unloads a vintage xylophone to a show like ours to play on two songs just because it’s exactly the right sound. Our closing band Seryn brought one on Wednesday night. From Texas. And you should have seen this thing. It looked like a hospital gurney from the 1940s with wheels and metal bars on top. Chris Semmelback got up from his drum set on a couple of occasions during Seryn’s set to add its pinging, singing texture to a lush and lovely soundscape. It was but one of the details that made their performance extraordinary, along with some astonishing vocal harmony. But more on that shortly.
The night had a harmony — in all senses. There were no odd turns or jagged corners. Just a flowing continuum of music that fit together (without sounding the same) and built to a satisfying climax. Phil Lee got us started with his unique and slightly twisted country blues. Dressed in black with his signature wide brimmed hat and shades, the diminutive Dylan-After-Taxes laid into the title track of the album that put him squarely in the Americana pantheon in 2000: “The Mighty King of Love.” Most of his material came from his recent Fall And Further Decline album, which we’ll file under unwarranted pessimism. We’re talking about a man who warms the crowd up with lines like “I got off my deathbed for this gig,” so one can only embrace the snark. God save the Mighty King, I say.
I have a feeling Los Colognes will be coming back some day to do a longer set than our “emerging artist” slot allowed Wednesday night. In just three songs Jay Rutherford (guitars and front vocals) and Aaron Mortenson (drums and second vocal) and their sizeable band (two guitars, two keyboard players!) provided sustenance to anyone who loves the organic blues/rock of the 1970s. Shades of Dire Straits, JJ Cale, The Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead hovered beatifically over this set. “Working Together,” the title track of an about-to-be-released album, had a big full-sail sound, while “Get Down” had a sweet, jumpy groove and the band passed the baton around for some nice stretched-out solos.
Also pure and timeless in his musical approach was tall and talented Brian Ashley Jones. Wielding a cool orange Gretsch arch-top guitar and backed by a lean bass and drums trio, Jones riffed his way into a slow blues. Tisha Simeral set exactly the authoritative tone and time you want from an acoustic bass (often while singing wonderfully), making Brian’s job easier. “Out Of The City” urged us to get away from light pollution (I freaking hate light pollution) to see the stars. And Jones brought it home on Telecaster in more of a ZZ Topian roundhouse vein. He left much of the crowd in a standing, clapping position, and the earthy set made a nice bridge to the more ethereal stuff to come.
It’s always bold to come out of the gate at a slow tempo, but you get the feeling that Annie & The Beekeepers have seduced audiences this way before. “Flying South” swelled with feeling and multi-voiced lines. And here’s where the night’s harmonic convergence really began to take shape. It’s more and more common for roots bands to embrace the aahs and oohs, and Annie Lynch’s fine group excelled at it. “My Bonneville” let them find a more rhythmic slot with an excellent and poppy ode to an automobile. “Come On” swung back in a textural direction with bowed bass and soft mallet drums, and this deceptively simple song prompted a mid-set standing ovation. The finale “Wake Up Mama” was the best showcase of all for Annie’s vocals, cool and clear as they are with a nice and natural country break. This tune – I scribbled down ‘Gillian Welch with a rumba beat’ – had life and lilt and sent the audience back to their feet as the set closed.
And thus was Seryn ushered to the stage, with its five men, one woman, xylophone and many other instruments. And like I said, god was in the details with these folks. For example, they began to lay down a sparkling drone of sound even as Jim Lauderdale spoke their introduction (an effective technique that nobody’s tried before to my memory). When the vocals kicked in on “We Will All Be Changed” the performance swelled and surged into vocal passion from lead singer Trenton Wheeler and sonic richness all around. And while the rhythmic shifts and interwoven instrumental parts were provocative, the shockingly accurate harmonies from singer Jenny Moscoco and up to four Seryn-ites at a time proved transcendent. Through the set, they set high degrees of difficulty with their vocal intervals and stacked harmonies and just kept nailing it. Nathan Allen’s guitar parts were liquid and loopy and reverby (my kind of thing). Bass player Aaron Stoner surprised on the final song by picking up a trumpet and adding another worthy detail. In our new world of Mumford-ish power folk, Seryn deserves a full seat at the table and big stages like Red Rocks on which to do their thing. It has easily that kind of power and scalability.
So enough already. It was a powerful ending to a great show. The bands gathered around to tackle the tricky “Heard It Through The Grapevine” and pulled it off with some tangy harmonica by Phil Lee. So in the end, we took Brian Ashley Jones’s advice. We got out of the city. We saw some stars. Thanks to all for being part of a harmonious time.