Bay Area band Midnight North, who blend Americana, rock and a hint of soulful blues have a harmony base that is both beautiful and comforting, a wall of vocals that can envelop you in ways that just feels right. Their recent 420 show at Petaluma’s Mystic Theater was an exceptional showcase of why they are fast becoming one of the hottest, up and coming bands in the Bay Area and the US.
Midnight North has worked very hard to get to the level they are now at, and you can tell that in their solid performances. Fronting the band is the duo-team of Elliott Peck and Grahame Lesh, who share responsibilities as songwriters, vocalists and guitarists (rhythm for Peck, lead for Lesh). Keys player Alex Jordan jumps back and forth between his electronic keyboard and his Hammond B3, adding a passionate energy to the depth and beauty of the songs, all while lending his voice to the superb harmonies. Sean Nelson, who’s elegant but powerful drumming blends beautifully with dexterous bass player Connor O’Sullivan, and together they hold down tight rhythms.
The band’s set included a version of the Rolling Stone’s “Tumblin’”, the troubadour vibe of “Long View”, the rollicking “Little Black Dog” and Peck’s gorgeous and heartbreaking “Green Country”, an incredible soul-tinged cover of Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic” and an encore of “All Remains The Same”. Special guests Ben Morrison (The Brothers Comatose) & Erika Tietjen (T Sisters), (who opened the night with their own duo), sang “Tennessee Whiskey” with bravado and amazing force. Guest sax player Michael Bello punctuated the songs with great feeling and guest guitarist Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All Stars) jammed and shredded in conjunction to Lesh’s guitar. A special moment of the night was when Phil Lesh himself hopped on stage to share “Wind & Roses” with his amazing son.
Fingerstyle Guitar with Michael Manring, Mark Vickness & Don Ross - Freight & Salvage - 4/10/19
Let’s have a short lesson on the fingerstyle guitar method, shall we? Fingerstyle is the technique of playing the guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to fingers. There is a tremendous freedom in fingerstyle, as pretty much the whole guitar can be used. The musician can create harmonics by simultaneously picking or pulling the strings on both the body and the fret board, while using the body of the guitar percussively. Because of all the sounds being emitted from one guitar, there is a sense of depth and fullness with the music created.
Being witness to this technique is an amazing thing, as watching a musician create such sounds is a somewhat magical as well as breathtaking experience. Being privy to Bay Area string-masters Mark Vickness and Michael Manring, as well as Canadian guitarist Don Ross, sharing the stage for a superb and intimate night of fingerstyle playing at Berkeley’s historic Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, was truly wonderful.
Vickness, who is a phenomenal multi-instrumentalist, opened the night with his duo Glass House with singer and beatboxer Dave Worm (Bobby McFerrin), creating the feeling of a large band with only 2 men. Vickness plucked, banged, and strummed his guitar, wrapping the stunning vocals of Worm in a melodic blanket that soothed and inspired. With original compositions as well as a cover of Pink’s “Try”, the duo was mesmerizing.
Manring is a legend, playing fingerstyle with a bass instead of a guitar. Using loops, pedal effects and his bass, he created wave after wave of sound that lingered and floated into space. There was a moment before he started where he silently paused, closed his eyes and seemingly channeled the notes and chords as he began to play. He is a true magician of sound.
Ross is hilarious as well as talented; cracking jokes, telling stories and bantering with the audience while covering songs from his most recent album A Million Brazilian Civilians. Ending the night, Ross brought back Manring, Worm and Vickness (who played tabla for the last few songs) and a jaw-dropping, collaborative jam ensued which showcased a wonderful cohesion and respect between all these incredible musicians.
Want to learn more about the fine art of finger-style strumming and guitar strumming in general? Check out the fine folks at Beginner Guitar HQ for their tips and insights on all thing guitar!
MGMT - Fox Theater - 5/2/19
MGMT are five talented men who create some unique music with roots in electronica, pop, and psychedelic rock. The band started their 2019 tour at Oakland’s incredible Fox Theater with all-female L.A. indie-rockers Warpaint, who blasted it hard with their powerful opening set. The sold out show boasted hits and relatively new material from their 2018 album Little Dark Ages as well as their 3 prior albums. Not basing a national tour on a immediate new album release only points to the fact that this band has a solid fan base that will show up regardless. Founding members Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser started MGMT in 2002 under the name The Management (the name was changed due to another band using it) and they have been growing with leaps and bounds as MGMT ever since.
Both VanWingarden (guitar/bass/keyboards and percussion) and Goldwasser (keyboards/electronic samples/guitar and percussion) are incredible musicians and singers as well as great songwriters. Their music is dense and alive; it pulses and vibrates like a living being. The electronic edge from samples and keyboards is sent into warp speed by thick, syncopated rhythm and harmonies. The current lineup of supporting members, keys player and guitarists James Richardson, bassist Simon O’Connor and drummer Will Berman wrap the songs with a heavy depth and make the music explode into being.