Cheers and beers were all around at the New Parish Thursday night, as the Parson Red Heads and Alela Diane & Wild Divine coerced concert goers into a rip-roaring premature weekend bash. Unadulterated joy poured forth onto the streets of Oakland from the groovy hub of swaying limbs and carefree laughter inside, deftly entwined by boing-y banjo licks and warming a capella swells.
Oregon-native-but-now-LA-based group the Parson Red Heads took to the stage first, decked out in full Value Village attire and thrift shop threads, to warm up the audience with their sunny charm. The triumph of the Priestly Gingers, if you will, relies on the synergistic euphony of sundry melodic trajectories. Indeed, disjointed instrumental parts are seemingly elementary — their music is littered with simple flourishes of tambourines, harmonicas and shakers — but unite to create a complementary whole that engulfs listeners in a seamless patchwork of orchestration.
Their sound recalls a less erratic version of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, exchanging four part harmonies and arpeggio arrangements for desert cult chants and dark eyeliner. Their stand out track of the night was a mellifluous rendition of “Burning up the Sky,” brimming with soft vocal dips balanced by elevating crescendos.
The intimacy of the hole in the wall venue created by a low stage, warm lighting and an outdoor lounging/smoking section bathed in starlight was amplified by both bands’ respective familial ties. Front man Evan Way of the Red Heads acts as the paternal adhesive in the group, which includes his wife, his sister and several longtime friends. Similarly, Alela Diane shared the stage with her father on bass and her husband accompanying her on guitar.
By the time Alela Diane and Co. stepped on, the crowd was well-lubed with anticipation Her ethereal tones lured all ears in the room into the tender ebb and flow of her fluid picking patterns. Damn, that girl can sing. There’s a hauntingly poignant quality to her voice that pierces into the recesses of emotion that somehow emulates simultaneous warmth and hollowness. Alela delivered tracks mainly from her newest album, entitled Alela Diane & Wild Divine, including fan favorites “Elijah” and “Suzanne.” She commanded the stage with a solo performance of “Lady Divine,” and ceded to the audience demands for an encore with “The Rifle” from her debut album The Pirate’s Gospel.
“There were too many heavy boots / And there were too many big black boots / And there were too many little brown shoes marching though,” she sang, showcasing her songwriting prowess in addition to her vocal mastery. Both bands’ performances felt more like an impromptu jam sesh at a family barbecue than a ticketed event in the heart of Oakland; if the walls of the New Parish dissolved into the air and some picnic tables and lawn chairs sprouted in their place, no one would have even batted an eye.