The musicianship on display at Zanzabar Monday night was impressive with two bands who pride themselves on collaboration and creating genre-bending, lush musical landscapes. San Francisco-based, The Family Crest opened for Mother Falcon, a comparatively "small" collection of seven members fronted by guitarist and singer Liam McCormick, whose voice is poised somewhere between rock god and Broadway. Flute, bass, drums, violin, and trombone fill out the able ensemble performing anthemic rock that sounds fresh and powerful. And if you think seven band members is enough to crowd the stage of Zanzabar's modestly-sized room, imagine Mother Falcon squeezing in five more people, all of whom play multiple instruments.
Founding member Nick Gregg is at the center of it all, singing, and often playing cello, though he also picks up the guitar and mandolin, and sometimes slips behind the keyboard. Even more complex than the game of Twister band members had to go through to switch instruments are the arrangements of strings, horns, percussion, and keys that go into their orchestral brand of rock. When I wasn't worried about someone's eye getting poked out by a sawing bow, I marveled at their dexterity, every single member having a moment (or two) when you'd think, wow, that guy/gal is really good! I particularly enjoyed one of their stand-out numbers called "Pennies," which is just sensational, featuring a long jazzy horn interlude with smoky saxophones and trumpet.
"Wall of sound" is an apt description of Mother Falcon's overall impression. It is, as you would expect, BIG. But it's not just big, it is also beautiful. Songs soar and crescendo, dive into delicate string plucking and swoony vocals, swing with horns, and leaving no instrument behind, a stealthy steel guitar will sometimes lend an unexpected country background to a song that is decidedly not country. But they are from Austin, Texas, after all, and you get the feeling that this group of players could pull off any sound they pleased. If you broke up this collection into parts, you would have a fine jazz band, a string quartet, a folk trio, and a probably a polka outfit, for all I know.
The next time either of these bands come to town, you should try to make it to a show. If you have a vestige of musical talent yourself, you'll probably leave wanting to go on tour with them -- and they might let you -- but you'll have to bungee-cord yourself to the top of the van. The seats are taken.
The Family Crest
Mother Falcon's horn section in the shadows