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Friday, February 25, 2011

Noise Pop: The Stone Foxes Tread Familiar Ground at the Independent

Posted By on Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 10:48 AM

click to enlarge The Stone Foxes at the Independent last night. - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • The Stone Foxes at the Independent last night.
The Stone Foxes

Voxhaul Broadcast

Ferocious Few

The Soft White Sixties

February 24, 2011

@ The Independent

Better than: Listening to 107.7 The Bone play the same hundred songs on loop.

Noise Pop gave a tip of the feathered hat to the bluesier undergarments of local rock Thursday night at The Independent, reminding us that classic rock doesn't have to be classic at all. Sometimes we forget there's traditional, straight-forward rock 'n' roll in our midst, presumably hiding in places taken up by our oh-so-silent conservative minority. Art school oddballs, it seems, don't have a monopoly on the S.F. music scene.

Last night's headliners, The Stone Foxes, are proof there's a local audience for something The Black Crowes would have called mid-album filler. This is the stuff of domestic beer commercials, but also of mild-mannered bluesy guitar fuming and harmonica riffing.

click to enlarge The Stone Foxes - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • The Stone Foxes
The four-piece is really a band's band. Amongst Aaron Mort (bass/guitar), Avi Vinocur (guitar) and brothers Spence Koehler (guitar) and Shannon Koehler (drums), there's no clear-cut bandleader, and seemingly no egos. All appear content to channel the bayou with thirsty guitar work and muscular howling.

In contemporary terms, Stone Foxes tread in the same murky waters as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Songs such as "I Killed Robert Johnson" and "Mr. Hangman" strike the same curbside notes, and make us think of mythical heroes and villains in the same breath. While the guitars grumble in ways befitting a Hell's Angels mixer, Shannon Koehler's harmonica is the secret tonic in these and a few other winning songs from the night.

click to enlarge The Stone Foxes - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • The Stone Foxes
And then there were the not-so-winning parts.

We're all for local bands making good -- before the encore, Shannon Koehler told the audience, "You guys are ridiculous. This is awesome. We used to think that if we got four people at Hotel Utah, that was IT, but this is it." It was heartmelting, to be sure. But we also require those who represent our damn fine scene to either a) make really, really good and interesting and provocative and nuanced music, or b) really kick ass live, have some charisma or engage a crowd on some kind of meaningful level. The former just isn't part of this band's mission, which is fine, but the latter part of the equation will need a tune-up.

At one point, one of the bandmembers mumbled something about a girl undressing in a video to "Switcher Road" (or something), but meant "Sweep a Road," and then there was some more inter-band banter, and something about it being an inside joke. Sigh. Then, near the end of the set, in the middle of a jam, Aaron Mort picked up a fan (not a person fan, but a fan fan), held it between himself and the mic, to little effect, and sang a few words before tipping over his mic stand, which he at least caught. Very awkward. Off night, we hope.

And from the c'mon-really files, the band covered Howlin' Wolf's "Little Red Rooster" (a Doors cover also heard on their latest album, Bears and Bulls). Yes, we get it, you're old souls born a generation too late. The '60s were pure, today's music is tainted. Organic or die. But fellas, your influences are obvious, try on something other than jeans for a change. 

click to enlarge Voxhaul Broadcast - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • Voxhaul Broadcast
Kudos to the members of undercard opener Voxhaul Broadcast, who woke up at 7 a.m. Thursday (a tall task for guys accustomed to waking up at noon), drove up from L.A., and nearly stole a rock show. The four-piece has just the right amount of swagger for this brash brand of chip-on-the-shoulder rock. Their first song was the best of the night, called "Loose Change," bearing a muscular spaceyness that unfortunately disappeared as the set progressed. The lead singer ditched his hoodie in a hurry, which made sense. There's nothing coy going on here.

click to enlarge Voxhaul Broadcast - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • Voxhaul Broadcast
Some songs drifted predictably into all-too-familiar rock tropes of verse, chorus, verse, bridge, jam. Power stances and screaming and swagger can't replace innovative musicality, which their first song hinted they can handle. "We don't come up here that often," said David Dennis, yet they'll be back at The Independent in a week, on March 2, for further inspection.

click to enlarge Voxhaul Broadcast - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • Voxhaul Broadcast
S.F.'s The Ferocious Few were indeed ferocious and just a few, a duo that deceived the senses. Singer-guitarist Francisco Fernandez came out with what appeared to be an acoustic guitar, yet there was nothing unplugged in this sonic brew. Fernandez strummed staggeringly and drummer Melvin pulsed magnetically, and some delay tricks on the mic gave Fernandez a compelling depth of field to his snarl, as if a vacuum were sucking his words into the unknown.

When the pace slowed, as it did in "The San Francisco Song," Fernandez' vocals featured mightily, like if Kid Rock kept any street cred. For just a pair, there came much sound, and all that poise and testosterone made it all the more ferocious.

Leadoff hitters The Soft White Sixties are very much rooted in their name's decade, but the '70s are a better approximation of the band's source material. They take the Seventies Americana emulation to a very visual level, too, their tight denim and shoulder-length hair every bit as telling (we wouldn't be surprised if they double as a Stones cover band) as their barroom rock twang.

Critic's Notebook

Overheard lying bastard in the crowd: "It's snowing outside."

If you like the classic rock, check this out.

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