Joshua Boydston and Stephen Carradini
Norman Music Festival
Thursday-Saturday, downtown Norman
Heading back west across Main, I and two friends headed to The Brewhouse to catch Head Cabinets. Having heard nothing about them at all, I was immediately glad that we stopped in. The married duo features a guy on guitar and a girl on cello, with vocals from both. The duo’s acoustic-based songs are similar to old-school Mountain Goats, if John Darnielle and Rachel Ware had the effervescent pop charm of Mates of State and the enthusiasm of Matt and Kim. The considerable rough edges of the guy’s vocals and guitar playing were rounded off by the cello and sweet female vocals, creating an endearing sound that’s hard to dislike.
One of my friends also noted how good their music sounded in The Brewhouse, which was a tribute to the soundman as well as a good band/venue pairing by whoever does that sort of thing for NMF. The cello was a bit quiet occasionally, but that’s the only complaint.
Amidst the clapping, tambourine shaking, singing and smiling, it was easy to miss the lyrics, which were about all sorts of great things: vampires, zombies, religious topics and more. Even though there are only two members, this band is the full package. Head Cabinets is a real-deal, do-not-miss band.
Look forward to more coverage of Thursday (including a triumphant set from The Neighborhood), Friday and Saturday’s NMF events on Monday.
My second dose of Riley Jantzen came at the Brewhouse, with him fronting his new band, Riley Jantzen and the Spirits. They play what I call train-whistle rock'n'roll: twangless country rock that crunches pretty hard, but not in the modern rock sort of way. Whatever you want to call it, Riley Jantzen and the Spirits are incredibly good at it. I got shivers twice during their set, and it's rare for me to feel goosebumps once during a good show. It helps that Jantzen's voice molds perfectly into whatever genre he wishes, and that his songwriting sensibilities are razor-sharp. His supporting cast is also a critical element; the bassist get props for being especially vital. I can't recommend this band highly enough to you; if you take nothing from NMF but Riley Jantzen, you're gonna be doing alright.
My second go-round with John Calvin came at Michelangelo's, where John Calvin and the Cavalry played their final show as an entity. Members may be leaving him for far-off places, but they didn't show any signs of distraction in their locked-in, 90-minute set of rock, pop, blues and folk.
John Calvin is most fun performer in Oklahoma to photograph, because his guitar faces are just absolutely incredible. He can make guitar faces because about half of the fun of a Cavalry set is listening to Calvin totally wail on his acoustic guitar, which he turns into an electric with a combination of pedals. He let no opportunity go un-soloed in this set, too. Calvin has come a long way since his first shows, and his current versions of his oldest songs show it. "Song to Make the Stars Fall," one of his oldest songs, sounds completely transformed, from a nice pop tune to a tour-de-force. It's a shame that the Cavalry is splitting up, because they certainly know how to turn a tune inside out.
The set felt a couple tunes too long, but when you're headlining a stage at NMF and it's your last show, you pretty much have permission to throw in the kitchen sink. It was a blast, and the band looked like it was having as much fun as the audience.
Montu's electonic jams brought the audience out to Jagermeister stage. I stopped in to check out the sound, and I thoroughly enjoyed the few tunes I caught. They will be headlining Groovefest next weekend, so if you haven't witnessed their clubby, electronic, party grooves, it will be a good opportunity to see them. Melodies and rhythm galore.