REVIEW: Megafaun Says No to Mics

Megafaun @ McCabe’s Guitar Shop  |  Santa Monica, CA  |  10.9.11

In this day and age we as concert goers don’t get to enjoy gigs like Sunday night very often. I’m talking about Megafaun’s performance at McCabe’s Guitar shop in Santa Monica, CA. It’s a venue that certainly brought out the best in everyone — band & audience. I see why smaller venues don’t succeed. A large part of it is the bottom line and the paychecks involved. The venue needs to make money and the best way to do that is to label it a club/theatre, sell stiff drinks, and fit as many standing people in as the firemen deem suitable.

Well, Sunday night’s show was the exact opposite of everything I just mentioned.

Inside McCabe’s Guitar Shop is a storied performance space. It’s a barn-shaped room with high ceilings and walls filled with too many hanging guitars to count. At one point I imagined everyone just grabbing the closest instrument to them and jamming away in a raucous Animal House-like scene. The small stage barely big enough for four was set before 10 rows of folding unassigned chairs. There was even coffee and tea for purchase at the front desk.

The show started with an announcement that there would be no mics – no amplification for this performance. Wow. I naturally became a little selfish in knowing I wouldn’t be able to record any clips or take photos for this review. The “click” of the camera was far too loud and even the vibration of a phone could be heard from afar. #failblog

The show opened with band friend, Casey of Hi Ho Silver. The highlight of his performance was a cover of Tom Petty’s “Time to Move On.” He sang it with guest Leslie Stevens, who’s nervous performance was noticeable sans a mic stand, yet delivered in earnest for that very reason. You can hear a quality recording of that tune linked at the end of this piece. After a short break where I grabbed a chocolate chip cookie — go for the oatmeal raisin instead — it was time for Megafaun’s version of Americana.

The four band members knew immediately they’d have our full attention. No microphones will do that to an audience. We HAD to be attentive. Phil Cook also explained that shows where people are sitting have the most attentive folk. He dated it back to our childhood where our parents always told us to “Sit down and be quiet”. We’re programmed that way.

With new bassist, Nick Sanborn in tow, the band, made up of brothers Phil and Brad Cook, and the only musician still sporting a beard, drummer Joe Westerlund were ready to go. Large price tags dangled from each instrument as the band walked out on stage.  They each exclaimed what a great opportunity it was to grab an instrument from the wall and play it that evening. McCabe’s is a musicians’ wet dream.

As the performance started you could tell they appreciated the library like silence. Megafaun took full advantage especially after what Joe Westerlund said were feedback and sound issues at the previous night’s show. Each musician went as far as to say “Can’t we just play rooms like this every night?” and Phil dropped the one-liner — “If you give us an inch, we’ll take two years.”

Megafaun played a lot off their new self-titled album. Get Right’s full band sound came across brilliantly even with no electric presence. I didn’t want the jam-infused ending to stop. Certain elements of the album (the beeps and buzzes and bops) could not be reproduced for songs like These Words. The songs as a result had to be carried by their vocals and harmonies, almost a deconstruction for the better. The opening track on the album, Real Slow was brought to life with a slow build and a full awareness of the lyrics — “People come from miles just to take a seat and watch the show…Take your time…If it starts real fast, it’s gonna end real…slow.” An appropriate song for the occasion. In between songs and laughs, Brad and Phil tuned their guitars with the now popular iphone app, and as they did, remarked what old music legends would say if they could see them right now. “Blasphemy!” On standout tunes, “You Are the Light” and “Second Friend” Joe Westerlund’s vocals were appropriately simplistic yet poignant — anyone not humming them at the conclusion probably doesn’t have a pulse.

The show was around an hour and fifteen minutes and flowed effortlessly with great back and forth banter from the band. You could even hear Phil and Joe whispering to each other as they shared piano duties on one of the tunes. Each musician switched instruments at one time or another. Sometimes Joe would drop the percussion and play acoustic guitar, while Brad would get behind the upright bass. The sing-alongs encouraged by the band were fully supported by the audience and really enriched the performance. Audience participation walks a fine line but worked wholeheartedly last night. The guy behind me was especially excited, one could only smile as he held the high note a little too long.

A band like Megafaun doesn’t come around very often. A bluesy, jazzy, folksy inspired sound which touches upon Crosby Stills and Nash, The Byrds, Neil Young and The Band. What sets Megafaun apart is their ability to never confine themselves to one specific sound. Certainly they attract fans of Wilco and the Fleet Foxes, and they come from the same ‘hood as Bon Iver. Yet Megafaun is just making what they feel — and thankfully it sounds good to a lot of us. You could tell in most people’s faces as they filed out onto Pico Blvd — they were very lucky to have witnessed last night. Megafaun’s performance made one think “All is right with the live music scene”. The perfect venue, at the perfect time, at the perfect place in Megafaun’s (fingers crossed) long career.

A few stealth photos from last night:

MEDIA from other shows:
Megafaun performing Get Right, electric

Listen here for that standout performance from the opener, Casey of Hi Ho Silver and Leslie Stevens covering Tom Petty’s “Time to Move On.”