July 24, 2009

The Fresh & Onlys | El Rio | San Francisco, CA | July 11, 2009

The Fresh & Onlys took another step Saturday night in designating themselves garage rock’s version of the little black dress – simple, yet highly refined; appropriate in any locale; perfect for any occasion. Quickly, off the top of my head, a list of the places in which a song like “Peacock and Wing” could theoretically cause a head-bobbing-induced riot would include, say: a stuffy country club, a barn, a steel mill, a DMV, a laundromat, the dank back room of San Francisco’s El Rio bar…

It goes without saying, then, that even a vocal mix from hell couldn’t stifle the palpable cool crammed in every nook and cranny of this band’s music and appearance. A typical exchange between frontman Tim Cohen and the soundboard dude went something as follows:
Cohen: “Can I get more vocals?”
Soundboard Dude: “[blank stare]”
Cohen: “Ok, the lyrics aren’t that good anyway.”
And with that kind of Jay-Z-ish brush off, the band got down to the dealings of glorious racket. Screw the vox.

“Invisible Forces” was all about groove anyway – Shayde Sartin’s spy caper bass line, Wymond Miles’ spooked riffing, Kyle Gibson’s guys-who-play-fills-are-compensating-for-something drumming. The whole thing plays like a kitschy '60s surf tune come back to life as some never-writ Dracula theme – as played by The Kinks. That’s a jumble; the band’s sound isn’t. Both lean and raw, The Fresh & Onlys sing about what they know – the invisible force on Saturday night proved the quintet’s innate ability to convert this particular breed of lifeless back-alley pads into an elegant den of rock 'n' roll. For his part, Miles, clean cut as always, sported a dapper thrown-back mop cut and Fender Jazzmaster that together shrugged a “yeah, I have my own band, too. What of it?” And if the ‘50s pseudo-greaser look wasn’t a tip off to been-here-done-that, his offhand guitar exploits certainly were. No lie, I saw him break for tea during the solo in “Endless Love.”

In between buoyant psych nuggets and Love-y guitar spasms, Cohen crooned ballads about girls, happiness, kindness and (lest it all be puppy dogs and teddy bears) hookers via a serrated baritone that, because of the screwed monitor, leaned heavily on Heidi Alexander’s syrupy cocktail harmonies for affection and support. “Peacock and Wing,” however, fell on no such crutch. A buoyant “rave-up” in the wild-eyed, pounding-heart sense of the term, the exuberant tour-de-melody repeatedly called to mind one of the band’s self-deprecating slogans – failure of all pop, failure of all pop, failure of all pop – and then proceeded to wipe this phrase away with climactic “ey-ohhhh” shoutalongs and a logical follow-up: who’s to say success is a good thing?
-Words and photo by Robbie Hilson

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