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And You Heard the Sparrows in the Gutters: Red Sparowes, Fang Island, Oxbow @ GAMH, 5/7/10

May 9, 2010

No matter how many times I go to Great American Music Hall, I am always taken aback by the stark contrast between the beauty within and what lies outside her doors. In the neighborhood that is the epicenter of everything sad about San Francisco, it is only fitting that the experience that lies inside should be transcendental.

I’d seen Oxbow once before, but much preferred them in this environment. They played their acoustic set from the middle of the floor, further increasing the unique vibe this band already exudes. They are just one of those live experiences that really can’t be put into words. It’s something you’ll either love or hate. I just know that seeing them makes me feel like I’m witnessing something special. When I hear someone ‘sing’ without a microphone, it affects me differently. It’s raw, and luckily most of the audience seemed to appreciate that.

Fang Island was…interesting. It was a bit too happy for me; for instance, there were four guys in the front row who hugged each other as they sang along. One of the three guitarists wore this snuggie-esque hoodie that was blue with stars on it. There were a significant number of people in the crowd who seemed to be very into them. After playing the announced last song, they stated that they actually had one more, and launched into something that sounded vaguely familiar. And then they started singing Mariah Carey’s ‘Always Be My Baby’ as the crowd snickered but sang along.

After interviewing Red Sparowes earlier in the evening, I was even more interested to see them in action. A panoramic scaled screen along the back of the stage awaited their visuals. The band came onstage and played nearly shrouded in darkness. Their visuals were at times, Koyaanisqatsi-esque, at others, their album art come to life. I caught the nuances- small changes in some of the songs- that I appreciated live. But what I appreciated even more was exactly what they had talked about in the interview- their set was essentially a conduit for me to have my own experience through. Their music and visuals propped up my thoughts, and let me imbue my own theme over the tone of their music. Unfortunately for me, my mind is a scary place. There is a lot going on up there on stage, with 5 musicians, and 3 of them transitioning between instruments. I’d have to say I most enjoyed watching Greg Burns play the pedal steel guitar. With a set like this, it’s easy to lose track of time….something that’s a hard task to accomplish nowadays. Before I knew it, it was midnight, and I had to slightly cut my time with Red Sparowes short to meet a friend from out of town.

As I walked outside the venue, my brain thanked me for the respite from normal thinking, which was enough to distract me from the horrors of the gutters of the Tenderloin.

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