Outside of San Francisco’s The Independent on June 8, throngs of people crowded. Yet they weren’t there for any concert. Garbed in gold and blue, the mob waited anxiously to get into a watch party for Game 4 of the NBA Finals. While drunken cries of “Warriors” filled the outside air, the concert venue next door sheltered an entirely different energy.
Fans who showed up early to catch two-man band Mapache, the opener for Nicki Bluhm, found a much more subdued, acoustic-forward mood. With mellow guitar and soft vocal harmonies, Mapache provided a beautiful — though underappreciated — performance.
Composed of high school friends Clay Finch and Sam Blasucci, Mapache describes itself on its various social media accounts by saying, “Close your eyes and imagine the Everly Brothers wearing Tie-Dyed Nudie Suits.” It’s a fair comparison, considering Mapache’s relaxed and distinctly Californian vibes, with some of its biggest musical influences being bands such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
Furthering the ever-present Californian vibe in its discography, the band also doesn’t shy away from dipping into Spanish. “Aquellos Ojos Verdes” was rich with swelling vocals, the song likely inspired by the two years Blasucci spent in Mexico.
Another hallmark of Mapache’s sound is the band’s use of relatively simple lyrics, which receive beautiful embellishments by way of layered vocals and quick-moving guitar runs. “Like a Stone,” one of the band’s most popular hits, is a textbook example.
Romantic lyrics such as, “Sweet like honey / Keeps me from getting sick / Ain’t it funny / Falling like a stone for you,” are simple yet still convey a deep sensitivity. The band’s straightforward poetics were executed exceedingly well here, with Blasucci’s voice climbing toward lofty high notes in the song’s chorus. This bare-bones approach was further embodied by the way that Mapache staged its performance.
Finch and Blasucci took to center stage with only their guitars in tow. Throughout their set, the two interacted sparingly with the audience, using the brief downtimes between tracks to duck down and steal furtive sips of beer. Standing close together, they appeared dwarfed by the Independent’s large stage, yet the close quarters they shared provided one of the performance’s strongest assets.
Finch’s left-handed guitar playing was advantageous in that it allowed the musicians to stand face-to-face, their guitar necks both reaching toward the audience, and Mapache remained this way for the entirety of its set. While this staging was static, it made visible the myriad ways by which each artist’s guitar playing influenced that of the other.
Finch and Blasucci’s strumming hands were perfect mirrors, completely in sync and almost brushing knuckles. Yet for “In the Morning Light,” Finch broke off into miniature solos, splintering into independent, impressive guitar licks, his fingers moving breathtakingly fast. In these moments, both members of Mapache closed their eyes. They appeared completely lost in the interlocking melodies before vocally reuniting for the song’s final verse.
Despite the high-quality sounds provided by the band, The Independent failed to properly stage Mapache’s acoustic stylings. The crowd that showed up early was respectably large but unfortunately noisy. This sizable crowd often drowned out the delicate harmonies and intricate fingerpicking found in Mapache’s more subdued songs.
The Independent’s audience never truly engaged with the opener onstage — beneath each track lingered a sizable amount of white noise from multiple background conversations. Despite this competition, each song still garnered well-earned applause, with the audience’s response overwhelmingly positive every time its members stopped talking long enough to listen.
With songs that sound like they would pair well with open air or a night sky, one can only imagine how much more successful Mapache’s set would have been in a more intimate setting. The band’s music may sound more at home at a bonfire than a concert venue, but with sensitive lyrics and softly sung harmonies, Mapache captured the essence of “Mountain Song,” even without the mountains.