The lineup of bands for the City Weekly Music Awards showcase at Velour Saturday night didn't have anything obviously in common going in, but proved to make for a remarkably cohesive night of fine music.
Paul Jacobsen and the Madison Arm took the stage first at the gorgeous Provo venue, and unlike some showcases, there was no waiting for a crowd to develop; Provo's music fans were out and ready by the time the first song was played. And, in a refreshing change for this consistent show-goer, it was an unusually respectful crowd when it came to actually listening to the bands, rather than bantering with friends through the sets.
Of course, the crowd might have just been struck by the beauty of Jacobsen's songs. That can happen; I've certainly been silenced by hearing a particularly delicate passage on a song like "Western Skies," one of Saturday's selections. I still struggle to slap an easy label on Jacobsen's music; "alt-country," "folk-rock" and "country-rock" can all apply at various points during Jacobsen and Co.'s sets. As I listened Saturday, I was thinking "Western-gospel" might work, but not gospel in necessarily a religious sense, but in an "I worship Western-tinged tunes with banjos and brushes" kind of way.
Next up was The Continentals, and the fresh-faced trio announced their Velour set would likely be their last show, at least for the indefinite future. (I'm starting to feel like the Grim Reaper of local music; two nights, two "last shows" including Cavedoll's gig at Burt's Friday. Any bands looking to break up, just invite me to your next gig).
The Continentals created some epic soundscapes Saturday, using just an electric piano, guitar and variety of percussion. At times they entered the prog-zone, never a comfy place for this listener, but they were relentlessly entertaining as they switched instruments, blended various shakers and maracas with off-kilter three-part harmonies and played with various effects. The song "Snow" was a definite highlight, blending whistling, ukulele and dramatic stops and starts.
Michael Gross & The Statuettes brought the proceedings back to a straightforward pop-rock vibe, and the energy the band brought to their set helped them win over a crowd that, according to Gross, probably wasn't too familiar with the band.
"We're Michael Gross & the Statuettes," Gross announced early on. "I'm sure most of you have never heard of us. Don't be frightened. But you probably don't want to know us."
He was joking, of course, and if anything, the band's tight set of powerful, hook-filled rock surely made the band some new friends Saturday. Gross's easy way with shifting his voice from a pretty falsetto to something darker, even menacing, makes this band one of the more intriguing in Utah to watch and see where they go from here.
Saturday's showcase ended with Provo favorites Parlor Hawk, pictured above, who managed to convince the crowd filling Velour to stuff themselves as closely as possible to the stage for their set simply by waving their hands, beckoning the minions to worship at their folk-rock altar. Judging by the willingness of the dozens of young ladies to do just that, along with the young men chasing them to join in, Parlor Hawk has something good working.
It's more than their good looks, too. The quintet led by Drew Capener moves easily between romantic pop balladry and Dylan-influenced folk-rock, and songs like "Every Bone" and "Like Thieves" hit their mark Saturday with ease, keeping the crowd entranced even after it had been standing through three previous bands. That bodes well for the future.
And I can't talk about the bands Saturday without giving props to Corey Fox of Velour, who has delivered a killer live music spot in Provo for five years. The decor is great, the sound excellent, and the audience in Utah Country has undoubtedly learned to respect the performers via his example. Many thanks to Velour for providing an excellent night of music.