|photo courtesy: Photo Finish/Island Records|
Talk about contrasts. Friday night at the Constellation Room, a guy wearing a black leather jacket with old-school punk rock patches stood near a gal in a bright patterned dress and flower-festooned hair.
Turns out he actually meant to check out Fear, the stalwarts playing their 1982 album The Record in the adjoining main room at the Observatory. No surprise there. It’s doubtful the "peace and love" mantra of Constellation headliner the Mowgli’s would resonate with fans of that aggressive band.
In Santa Ana, the Mowgli’s were joined by fellow L.A. groups Cayucas and Hunter Hunted, all three of which have been recently featured on KROQ’s Locals Only program. The Mowgli’s have sold more than 300,000 downloads of their exuberant single “San Francisco” and seen it reach the Top 20 on both alternative and adult album rock radio. Last fall, the tune (from their Love’s Not Dead EP) was prominently used by World Series baseball champs the San Francisco Giants.
The alt-folk band espouses positive lyrics about unity while specializing in soaring full-group harmonies that sometimes recall the Polyphonic Spree. Both traits are put to good use amid forthcoming major-label debut Waiting for the Dawn (due June 18 via Photo Finish/Island Records).
Although eight musicians were crammed onto the small stage, they rarely bumped into each. Kicking off an energetic 55-minute set with the strident “Great Divide,” the Mowgli’s immediately had a capacity crowd moving right along. Keening electric guitar work from Michael Vincze and Josh Hogan elevated the title track from the new album and was an early highlight.
A distinct, bohemian vibe came across visually (tie-dyed drum kit) and aromatically (burning incense). Before the hushed, spiritual-tinged “Carry Your Will,” the band led everyone in a moment of silence for the victims of the Santa Monica shootings earlier that day, followed by a primal scream.
Keeping that personal connection going, Vincze made several forays into the crowd, as did acoustic guitarist Colin Dieden.
Then the musicians traded lines on a fun, rollicking “Leave It Up to Me” (about “stepping into your higher potential”) that could seamlessly fit into a Broadway musical; Vincze even stood atop the bar. The acoustic guitar-led piece “Time” was part folk protest against corporate America, part appeal for self-reliance.
Finally, the Mowgli’s urged everyone to make the world a better place by performing random acts of kindness before their high-energy rendition of “San Francisco.” When was the last time you heard something like that at a concert?
Cayucas, named after a town in San Luis Obispo County, returned to the venue after opening for Ra Ra Riot in the main room last February. They battled sonic snafus all through their 35-minute set (I was told they didn’t sound-check). The band, a KCRW fave that has appeared on Morning Becomes Eclectic, released a blissful alt-pop EP (Bigfoot) produced by singer-songwriter and recent Shins addition Richard Swift.
Frontman Zach Yudin has a low-key manner onstage. Fortunately, heavenly harmonies and chants with twin brother Ben, plus dreamy effects and surf guitar sounds from Christian Koons, made up for any minor shortcomings. Standouts included the shimmering “Deep Sea,” the infectious, African-influenced “Ayawa ‘kya,” groove-based “High School Lover” (à la Beck’s “The New Pollution”) and Vampire Weekend-esque “East Coast Girl.”
Earlier, Hunter Hunted made their first O.C. appearance with a great half-hour performance. Singer/keyboardist Michael Garner and singer/guitarist Dan Chang’s winsome indie pop/rock songs were augmented by three other musicians. Everyone seemed happy to be there, especially the gregarious Garner, who had no problem getting audience participation going.
Guster-style selections from their new EP, like “End of the World,” “Operating” and peppy single “Keep Together,” not to mention a sleek, violin-laden cover of Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?,” were all highly impressive. Can’t wait to hear a full album’s worth of material.
Next show for the Mowgli's: June 16, Bonnaroo Festival, Manchester, Tenn.