The Thursday night crowd at San Francisco’s Swedish American Music Hall was littered with disgruntled faces of middle-aged nine-to-fivers trying desperately to make it through the work week. Everybody was hoping that Zach Rogue’s new project Release the Sunbird would provide that last surge of strength for the Friday ahead. As promised, the band delivered an hour long set of airplane music — easy music to drown out the mechanical drone of Boeing engines, or in this case, the cerebral strain of San Francisco desk jobs.
The Swedish American Music Hall, immediately up the street from Café du Nord, was set up like the interior of a church: a flat, altar-esque stage in front surrounded by wooden benches along the side walls and two columns of seating with an aisle down the middle. The band’s set up was simply minimal, with Kate Long on bass, Kenny Childers and Mike Bridavsky both on guitar and Pete Schriener on percussions framing Rogue at center stage. All the band members stayed relatively stationary throughout the evening, so there was nothing much else to do except relax, pop open a bottle of wine, and sway to acoustic croonings about love, life and why.
Release the Sunbird’s set started softly with a tentative rendition of “Always Like The Son” from their debut album Come Back to Us. The thirteen-track LP bulges with cliché song titles such as “Why Can’t You Look at Yourself” and “Everytime You Go.” Yet Thursday night’s spectacle did not resemble a cheese fest but a more subdued family gathering at Sunday church. Rogue’s daughter was in attendance, bouncing up and down the aisle in a flowery smock and massive head phones, watching her dad sing to a room full of strangers. He introduced her with the prelude “if you see a kid running around here tonight…that’s mine,” and proceeded to dedicate to her a fitting tune, “Running Away From Me.”
Indeed the familial affection was infectious that night; all the band members, with the exception of Long, were sporting plaid shirts. She joked about the lads’ matching attire, remarking that if “tonight goes well, I’ll have my very own plaid shirt.” Long certainly did not seem segregated from the family, as her tender pipes provided a haunting backdrop for Rogue’s gruff tones. She switched back and forth between bass, keyboards, and the shaker, and at select moments, stole the spotlight away from front man Rogue.
Release the Sunbird’s set grew increasingly more dynamic and powerful as the evening progressed, the musicians displaying more and more patience as they allowed every note to grow fuller and reverberate with more depth. Rogue’s command of the stage cemented as he eased into his songs with the sincerity and confidence of a veteran songster. The vocals of Release the Sunbird was the most pleasing aspect of their sound, as every band member lent his/her voice at some point and a proficient sound check insured that no booming bass sounds overpowered the delicate vocal fascia.
Their blossoming musicality culminated in the night’s closing track, a spirited cover of “Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads. David Byrne would have smiled from the heavens down onto the altar-like stage had he been in attendance, as each separate instrumental component converged to form a fluid whole. With Thursday night’s performance, Release the Sunbird has proved to make music for music’s sake, letting extraneous performance qualities dissolve into the mindless chatter of in-law gossip.