South Lake Tahoe’s Mescalito comes with a bookworm. Five of them, actually, who would prefer to pore over music charts rather than to hit the road.
Mescalito is a studious musical quintet with a voluminous self-described style: “psychedelic jazz rock jam soul.” Its summer assignment is to learn Little Feat’s 1978 double-album, “Waiting For Columbus.”
Band leader Simon Kurth plays guitar and uses a metaphor.
“Little Feat is my favorite band,” he said. “It’s a big onion with a lots of layers. Little Feat represents what we like to do.”
What it will be doing onstage in the coming weeks is exciting. On Thursday, Mescalito will headline the opening Live at Lakeview concert in South Lake Tahoe. Next week, it will play in the Tahoe Paradise Park summer music series. And on July 7, it will do a Playhouse set at the High Sierra Music Festival, performing songs from the classic Little Feat record.
Little Feat was formed by innovative slide guitarist Lowell George and rock keyboard icon Bill Payne. “Waiting for Columbus” includes tracks from seven live shows. Songs include “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” “Oh Atlanta,” “Willin’ ” and “Dixie Chicken.” There are some covers, as well, such as Fraternity of Man’s “Don’t Bogart That Joint.”
Mescalito will perform “a re-creation of the seven shows,” Kurth said. “It’s a pretend set list, but will have the flow of one of their actual set lists. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Kurth toured all across the globe for nearly a decade with bands such as Poor Man’s Whiskey and Huckle. He settled down in Meyers after getting married and starting a family. He played in a band named for a Black Keys album, “El Camino.”
The group grew larger as musicians surfaced around the Sierra Tract neighborhood. Mescalito debuted in December 2016. Today’s lineup is Kurth, guitarist Martin Bush, keyboardist Lowell Wilson, bassist Keith Ovelmen and drummer Chris Grant, who is the newest member and a native of Australia.
Bush was going to be the keyboardist but he picked up a guitar during the first rehearsal, and played so well that Kurth didn’t want him to put it down.
“It looks like we will need to find another keyboard player,” Kurth said at the time.
“The thing about (Mescalito) is there is no laziness,” Wilson said. “Every gig, every rehearsal, every time we play, everyone tries to play their best all the time.”
Bush agreed: “Everyone recognized that we all are serious about music. Simon has been doing a lot of pro work and it gets us out of the (mind-set) of being an average Tahoe band.”
“We draw from the same well of music,” Kurth said, “but we each have different styles. Everyone likes their roles and it all fit organically.”
The band spent Lake Tahoe’s spectacularly sunny Saturday afternoon practicing inside Bush’s house. Mastering Little Feat is a challenge.
“It is the best homework to learn this stuff,” Grant said. “There are so many layers of complexity. It seems straight forward but it really isn’t. You don’t absorb it until you dig into it.”
Kurth calls it homework. “Imitation leads to assimilation, which leads to innovation,” he said. “A sign of musicianship is that it sounds simple and approachable. It’s cool when you get your fingers dirty. Lowell George was one of the best slide players in that genre.”
Family man-musician Kurth says he’s happy to not have to worry about recording deadlines or making travel plans and booking shows.
“There is none of that,” he said. “There is no crazy-time land. It’s just playing music.”
The younger guitarist, Bush, struck a contrary chord: “I want roadies. I’m ready for a world tour.”
– Tim Parsons
- Live at Lakeview, 6 p.m. Thursday, June 21
- Tahoe Paradise Park, 5 p.m. Saturday, June 29
- High Sierra Music Festival, Saturday, July 7