I ended up volunteering to help the Vera Project load in at the Triple Door for the gala in the afternoon, then running out and picking up Greg and heading back downtown to see the show. We parked in my office's underground secured lot and walked over to the EMP and headed up the SF stairs to the venue. Coming off the stairs we stopped by the Vera table and said hello. I didn't end up tabling for the Vera Project so I didn't get a seat between acts after all. Dang.
First up was Calico the Band who drove 10 hours from Boise to play for us and brought plenty of supporters.
The instruments were acoustic, upright bass and acoustic guitars and fiddles and banjos and mandolins. At least I think they used a mandolin, they switched around freely. They also had a drum set that was played standing up on occasion and another drum up front. They had a more percussion driven approach than I'd anticipated and got the audience cranked up quickly. The energy level was high and the band was very good, with a rich sound and good vocals and a presentation that just pulled you right in to the stomping beats and fun music. The lady on the keyboards was the "front-woman" handling the majority of the vocals and her charisma put them over. They put in a solid set that warmed up the crowd and had us dancing and yelling, but they had the difficult challenge of winning from the opening slot. The next band had a better chance simply because Calico the Band warmed up the audience. Unfortunate, but somebody had to go first.
Next up was K Sneak. I saw her at a Knowmads show a few years back, if I remember correctly. Oh yeah, I remember, the Japan benefit show in 2011 when she was in 9th grade. She's grown and matured and had a good time working the crowd and rapping, good to see her getting some love and attention and rewards for sticking to it and working at it. A hip hop act with a prerecorded track or sequence has a challenge keeping the EMP crowd engaged; bands like Tommy Cassidy add a full band to the rapping so the sequencing is minimal and the performance has more going on. K Sneak was fearless and carried her set and filled the stage like she'd been doing it for years (at least 3 so far!).
Good flow and an assortment of fast and interesting rhythms along with some nice cover choices got the crowd into it and enjoying it. Two good sets with 2 more bands to go.
Next up was Fauna Shade. My friend Eduard Contreras plays drums in the band and I enjoy their sound, which Troy Nelson described as "reverb drenched" or something like that - and he wasn't wrong.
I enjoy their sound and already have a couple of favorite songs that I enjoy hearing live, so they had me and a corner of the crowd by the stage dancing away and having a sweaty good time. The crowd intensity definitely spiked up with the distorted loud guitar driven sound and the bass lines occasionally replaced by psychedelic sounding string scrapes with Eduardo pounding away keeping time and tempo. Greg (the photographer) mentioned that he was particularly impressed by Eduardo's drumming, and he doesn't give out all that many compliments. Great sound, great rhythm, tight band in a fun groove. Without a pure lead vocalist the guitarist vocalist was somewhat rooted to the vocal mic which made it harder to put on a show while also playing and singing, so the music got much of the focus.
Fauna Shade finished off a great set and our corner of the crowd wiped the sweat off of our brows and re-hydrated aggressively. Things were looking good for Fauna Shade, I was leaning towards them as the best act of the night but it was tough, all the acts were good.
Then Otieno Terry came out. He opened with an a cappella vocal that showcased his beautiful rich voice and got the front row and the center of the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.
Then the band came out and finished the takeover, and we went on an awesome musical journey. Soul music and thumb popping bass lines, crooned sections with rich backing parts and the occasional doo-wop overtones and brilliant piano work all just served to amplify the charisma and effect of Otieno's performance.
The band was dressed in nice suits with dark slacks and grey sport jackets and ties and looked sharp, and also a bit like a throwback to the rat pack days. The backing vocalist in particular was talented and a great addition to the sound and attitude of the band, and his whistling was phenomenal.
Yet even that and consistently hot musicianship didn't come close to overshadowing Otieno, who gave each of his band mates a chance to shine - then emphatically took back the spot light to bring the show home. Intense soulful lyrics and a joyful performance made sure that the musical journey took us exactly where we all wanted to be even if we hadn't known it. This was one of those commanding performances that sucked us in and took us along with Otieno through the emotional wringer that he sang so powerfully to us about. The final number got the crowd screaming and moving and roaring, and once again the night ended with a band strutting off the stage on top of the world, conquerors of several hundred adoring sweating fans, and the inevitable confirmation of the judges that Otieno Terry was going to the finals was almost anti-climatic. They were eff-ing off the charts in a style I haven't seen anybody do, much less do well, in ages, and the judging has been pretty good (if maybe a little biased towards the later acts, just like the crowds). Fauna Shade got the wild card slot, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed until Sunday afternoon.
Update: Fauna Shade did indeed get into the finals as the wild card band. Hot damn! Now we get to see Laser Fox, Thee Samedi, Otieno Terry and Fauna Shade at next weeks EMP Sound Off! finals. This is going to be a great show, and I have no idea who's going to win. They're all talented and amazingly fun so the audience is going to have a great time no matter what!