Music & Games Night : In Leaves, Owltrain & Musical Charis

Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Marilyn’s On K, Sacramento

Sometimes when bands break up and members go their separate ways to form new groups, their fans are treated to twice the amount of music. An obvious example would be The Mars Volta and Sparta rising from the ashes of At the Drive In’s breakup in 2001. Such was the case when Sacramento-based pop-rock band Self Against City imploded in late ’08, catapulting the members into two different groups that would later come to be known as Musical Charis and Owltrain. It wasn’t the nastiest of breakups, but it surely wasn’t the prettiest either. On Wednesday, March 18 the split factions of what was once Self Against City were brought together at Marilyn’s on K. Would there be fireworks?

Musical Charis took the stage first. The two core members of the group are Blake Abbey (formerly of Self Against City) and Jessie Brune (also a very prominent local singer/songwriter); throughout their set, different musicians joined them and played various instruments. After somewhat of a slow start, the band really started to pick things up when their drummer joined in on the third song, giving the audience something more to groove to.

Highlights of the set included Abbey talking a whole bunch of crap about his former bandmates in the room (awkward yet hilarious) and the performances of crowd favorites “The Life,” “Anatomy” and their set closer “Baby Blue.” All in all, it was a great musical performance that showcased the musicians’ many talents from Abbey and Brune’s beautiful vocal harmonies to their great songwriting skills. Their set surely proved to all in attendance that Musical Charis is a force to be reckoned with in the music scene today. Look for their late May release of Electra Church Bells via JMB Records.

Next up was Owltrain, who with their more typical rock-band setup (two guitars, bass, keys, drums), were able to really up the level of energy in the room, with a sound reminiscent of bands like Mute Math, Minus the Bear, Coldplay and Radiohead.

The band’s most notable feature was the incredible performance of Owltrain’s drummer, Justin Barnes. The guy was a machine, and he looked so at home behind his kit it would make any percussionist want to practice more. (Even then they still probably wouldn’t have the chops this guy does.)

Barnes may have been the standout member of the group, but that doesn’t mean the other members didn’t shine as well. Jeffery LaTour, who played primarily guitar and some keys but sang backup vocals as well, made great use of his effects pedals and looped samples. He also was singing through what I later learned was some type of old telephone, rigged up as a microphone, which served as a very unique, lo-fi filter for his soaring voice. Jack Matranga, the group’s lead singer who also switched between guitar and bass, played some rather technical parts on bass and guitar while maintaining his breath and pitch control quite well. Finally, Danny Cocke, who mostly played bass but wound up with a guitar in his hands for a few songs, rounded out their sound perfectly with his effortless playing. The biggest crowd pleasers were “Harmony Cannons,” “Green Key,” and the set closer, “1984,” which included an incredible buildup at the end where sounds were layered upon one another until it came to an abrupt end, leaving the crowd mesmerized.

Rounding out the night was In Leaves, a brand new band to hit the Sacramento scene. Considering this was only their second performance as a full band, In Leaves was quite impressive and loud—very loud. With their amps set to 11, In Leaves proceeded to make everyone in the room’s ears bleed, but in a good way. In between songs, lead singer JJ Dunlap’s voice sounded destroyed, but during the songs he was great, proving how much of a trooper he really is. The band really started to shine when Dunlap dropped his guitar (not literally) and became more of an energetic frontman with his long shaggy hair in his face, a hole in his jeans and tambourine in hand as he furiously danced around the stage. His vocal style is similar to that of Caleb Followill of the popular band Kings of Leon—so watch out KWOD, you might be spinning In Leaves soon.

At the end of their very rockin’ set, In Leaves walked off stage with the microphone swinging from the rafters and feedback from the bass amp permeating through the room. The sound guy had a “WTF?” look on his face and everyone else was making sure they weren’t deaf. Hearing is overrated anyways.

Luckily, the only fireworks all night were of the musical variety, Abbey’s comments notwithstanding. Breaking up can be hard to do.

    Jonathan Carabba

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