Off Beat Fest opens amidst Howlin’ Rain, Moondog Matinee
The November air was clear and brisk for the first night of Reno’s 2018 Off Beat Arts & Music Festival, but a Howlin’ Rain came brooding from Oakland.
The opening festivities Thursday night were localized at The Saint and featured a three-band bill. As Reno music fans, out-of-town visitors and performers filled the venue, they were greeted by the soft songs of Mapache, an acoustic duo from Los Angeles who showcased songs from their newest self-titled album (Live on KEXP). You had to get close to the stage to hear the nuances of their settled sound.
They perform in the style of Simon and Garfunkel, continuously forging their voices, amalgamating a superior jointed vocal performance. They capitalize on their guitar real estate . When people play the same barre chord, it’s usually unnecessary.
The young polyglots slipped into Spanish once for a beautiful canción. They played slow, beautiful tunes about LA cowboys, smoking dope and snorting coke. All while maintaining a peaceful, affectionate sweetness.
Moondog Matinee represented Reno as the hometown talent for the evening. Frontman Pete Barnato put on a dynamic show, as always. He asked the audience to get closer and feed off of his energy, and they happily reciprocated.
I had a conversation with a friend outlining the difference between Greta Van Fleet’s shameful, soulless ransom of Led Zeppelin’s sound and Moondog Matinee pulling off the homage with style and grace. We concluded you can sound like a band, but there needs to be something more. Their success lies in the inclusion of twangy guitar, raucous and pulling from multiple influences including Zeppelin, The Black Crowes and soul music. It takes more than technical skill to be acknowledged for your contribution to music. Sounding “just like” your favorite band isn’t going to cut it. You also need heart, purpose, direction, a fresh hybrid or originality.
Emotion pours from the headliner Howlin’ Rain. Singer/guitarist Ethan Miller is either ripping a guitar solo, howling prose, smiling from ear to ear, or somehow doing all three at once.
They could be transported to a ’70s rock show, opening for Thin Lizzy or something, and no one would assume them imposters. They look like a band that records to tape and gets it right the first time.
The four-piece is never stagnant, but never too much. The two guitarists battle over auditory territory while the bass lays a driving backbone. NPR Music says their newest release “The Alligator Bride” features them in “full-on Crazy Horse mode, as big guitar chords are lashed with feedback.” I like that. It’s not as chaotic, to me, it’s Built to Spill with Geddy Lee on bass and Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses on vocals. Hard to go wrong.
All in all, the performers and listeners came to play. The chaos multiplies this evening when Off Beat takes over almost a dozen venues in town.
Photographer and journalist Tony Contini graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in art photography. He loves working with bands and telling stories. Photography portfolio: https://www.TonyContini.com