Jelly Bread’s post-midnight appearance in the Cargo Concert Hall was appropriately called a “Pajama Jam.” It came at the end of an epic night of music in Reno. But with keyboardist Eric Matlock giddily dancing around in outlandish sleepwear, it wasn’t time for bed yet.
Concertgoers have the option of purchasing tickets for individual shows at the second-annual Off Beat Arts and Music Festival, or getting a full-access pass to catch parts of any of the shows by more than 100 talented local and out-of-town bands.
The two International Blues Challenge events I attended in Memphis were amazing, with outstanding groups performing all week in every venue on Beale Street. However, each place was so packed that it was always, well, a challenge, to find a seat or at least a comfortable place to stand and watch. The Friday night crowd here was well disbursed and it made for a comfortable, no stress way to catch a lot of music. I took in seven bands, each within walking distance of the famed arch that proclaims, “Reno, The Biggest Little City In The World.”
Con Brio started the night in the Cargo Concert Hall. As people began to file inside, members of the San Francisco R&B band took the stage, the final to enter the charismatic showman Ziek McCarter. The band is breaking out nationally and it inspired the audience to start dancing early on. It was Con Brio’s second Cargo appearance.
Afterward, as The Main Squeeze performed, McCarter was in the crowd. Wanting to save his voice, Con Brio’s lead singer gave the venue and its sound system a thumbs up and scribbled on a reporter’s notepad that Reno’s urban music festival is “Gr8ness.”
Speaking of great, The Main Squeeze, originally from Chicago, gave a performance worthy of a World Series championship. The band is part soul, part jam and part rock, with guitarist Max Newman tapping out Van Halen-esque licks. Lead singer Corey Frye has an amazing vocal range that goes all the way to falsetto, which is fun to hear from a big man. Keyboardist Ben Silvertstein is called Smiley, and he’s certainly happy to be in such a powerhouse band.
Down the street at the edge of Midtown, Reno’s version of Haight-Asbury or Telegraph Avenue, The Loving Cup hosted hometown, post-modern rockers Rigorous Proof. After the sound check, for dramatic effect, the members stepped outside, only to immediately return with singer Johnny “Harpo” Bailey wearing a dressy poncho. The band has a cool sound with a sardonic bent.
Another cozy place is the 3rd Street Bar. That’s where Chico’s Swamp Zen held court with a seven-piece that includes three horns. The band plays a diverse style of sounds, and it delivered a rousing Latin tune to the delight of the crowd.
The Rockbar Theater is the former Knitting Factory. It’s all classed up now, with an entrance on Virginia Street and tables throughout. The Asphalt Socialites, alt rockers from Reno, played heavy and clean and although they look pretty mean, the mischief in their eyes let us know they were having fun.
Strange Weather was up next. Lead singer Vinny Berry proudly proclaimed that the band was formed in South Lake Tahoe. It belted out a serious dose of original Zeppelin-like tunes. The band started out a short time ago playing excellent covers and it’s come a long way since. The members recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue music, taking the same path as Turd, which first played at Rojo’s cavern, from the 1990s. Good luck, guys.
Then it was time for Gene Evaro Jr. at Eldorado’s club Novi. The young band from Joshua Tree, California, also played this year at High Sierra, Hangtown, Guitarfish and Commons Beach. Evaro is a major talent as a singer, guitarist, keyboardist and songwriter. Led by bassist Piper Robison, the rhythm section is the best I’ve heard. The performance would build and then slow down ever so slightly before building again. It ended with its only cover, The Cure’s “I Will Always Love You.” The band is so tight, it’s hard to imagine it not soon becoming a household name. I was lucky to catch the entire set.
Finally, it was time for pajamas and Jelly Bread, and, good grief, the group has added yet another player, keyboardist Charlie Brown. The Reno and Tahoe-based band kicked it up a notch when it added a second guitarist, Sean Lehe. In the early days, Jelly Bread alternated styles from swampy to soulful. Now it has melded into a consistent and smooth R&B band arguably the best in the region. It played new material on this night, working it out for an upcoming album. The band never sounded better to me than it did last night.
Off Beat continues Saturday and Sunday. For a full schedule, click the LINK