Last night was my first time checking out Subterranean Arthouse, an intimate little gallery in Berkeley that hosts musical performances most weekends. And when I say intimate, I mean super intimate. The venue sets up about 30 or so chairs in two rows just barely out of the performers’ laps. I felt self-conscious getting up to get a better angle for photos. Heck, I felt self-conscious eating the burrito I brought in because I hadn’t had time to eat dinner beforehand, even though the woman at the door said it was OK. I felt like every grain of rice that fell in my lap was getting picked up by the microphone recording the show for posterity. Needless to say, it’s a nifty place to see a show for folks who are interested in really, intensely focusing their attention on music for a couple hours.
The focus last evening was Mark Growden, a local songwriter who got his start in experimental jazz and composing music for theater but has settled into noir-ish folk territory after getting hooked on banjo and accordion. Growden was one of the first local musicians I read about after moving to the area, from this piece in SF Weekly profiling the release of his 2011 album Lose me in the Sand, and my interest was instantly piqued. I signed up to download a couple of free mp3s from San Francisco label Puerto Franco Records, and what really struck me—and what none of the profiles I read seemed to mention—was his assured, robust baritone voice. Dude can sing, is what I’m trying to say. Growden has been living in New Orleans for the last couple years, but he’ll be back in the Bay Area for an extended period, which means more opportunities to see him live—starting with a second show tonight at Subterranean Arthouse.
The evening’s most pleasant surprise was the act that opened for Growden, El Sobrante singer-songwriter Paul McNees’ project The Mockingbirds. It was a good match, and not just because most of the same musicians backed the two songwriters. The Mockingbirds played evocative Americana that—and hope this is a comparison McNee isn’t sick of hearing—reminded me in no small part of Calexico’s atmospheric, wide-open approach. Bonus points awarded for featuring a singing saw solo in one song.
Here are a some rather grainy photos from the evening. I didn’t want to use a flash. I felt self-conscious enough as it was.
Or in gallery form, if you prefer: