The New Parish in Oakland looked like the scene of a Western film last Friday night: dimly lit floor, a swanky wooden bar and music wafting throughout the air. The light from a single iPhone screen could illuminate the area around you. In other words, the venue felt appropriate for the Stone Foxes — a San Francisco dirty blues band who tore up the stage with syncopated fuzz and gritty guitar riffage.
Opening with their new track “Cotto,” the Foxes immediately jumped into a frenzied swarm that would’ve made the famed boxer, Miguel Cotto, proud. With bassist Aaron Mort crooning away, the rest of the band followed with an explosive chorus of backing vocals and chord progressions. Without a moment of hesitation, the band dove right into the punchy, guitar-heavy screeches of “Patience,” with guitarist Spence Koehler cranking out lick after thunderous lick.
Although he isn’t currently present on any of their released albums, keyboardist Elliott Peltzman easily synced up with the trio, affirming his place within the band. Peltzman’s keys integrated smoothly with the heavy guitars, similar to early Wolfmother tracks like “Joker & the Thief.” At times, it sounded like there were two guitars playing because of Peltzman’s distorted, swampy take on the keys. However, rather than merely filling in gaps between guitars, Peltzman was able to stand out and groove collectively with the band, giving them a fresh spin on the blues as he hammered away at the keys.
The bandmates themselves felt like they were spinning. In addition to trading vocal duties with almost every song, the band switched up instruments as well, with Mort taking over the drums while drummer Shannon Koehler took the front of the stage for a mean and mighty harmonica swing on new track, “Everybody Knows.” Shannon also sang lead vocals in between harmonica riffs, leading the band in an acoustic rendition of the charming, easy-going “Passenger Train.”
After the foot-smashing tambourine sing-along “Stomp,” the band wrapped up their set with a barrage of thick, musty lines with Spence’s smokey pipes belting a crunchy, whiskey-soaked cover of “I’m a King Bee” before jumping right into the loud ‘n’ heavy vocal merry-go-round “Psycho.” With one final twangy buzz, the Stone Foxes left the stage to excited cheers and feverish applause from the crowd who were intoxicated by the band’s smooth yet stinging blues.
Although they were the show opener, the Foxes far out-shined Tea Leaf Green, the following SF blues band who took to the stage. While TLG started out strong with rich guitar solos and soulful, gospel-like jam rock vibes, the band began to grow tiresome after their third 20-minute freestyle. Yes, jam band music is all about songs that rival T.V. show run-times, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be diversity within the jams. As face-melting as the guitar solos were, they became repetitive as the same rhythm kept going on and on.
In the end, TLG seemed to only provide decent background music to get a beer with your buddies and talk about each other’s weeks. As a stand-alone band however, TLG only offered a few groovy soul songs before they dropped into your typical, overdone ’60s jams.
With a night of blues coming to a close, there was an established dichotomy between the two bands playing that night. Although they come from similar musical backgrounds, the more traditional TLG was clearly bested by the band who chose to venture away from the roots of classic rock. While the Foxes still embrace classic rock, the band’s take on the genre presents them as one of the most refreshing, enjoyable bands in the Bay Area.
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