Mobley – the Austin, Texas band that spent 70 minutes on the Saloon Stage at Phoenix Hill Tavern Wednesday night – knows they have a winning hand before the cards are even dealt. And it only took three and a half songs for lead singer Anthony Watkins to lose his poker face and show the crowd an undeniably infectious smile while banging an assortment of instruments and singing with a raw talent and enthusiasm that brings to mind major musical voices.
Every Mobley song is its own performance piece. Armed with video monitors and stage-controlled light accents, the band plays even a small room like its own arena, making every melody a sales pitch. A song starts and it might sound a little too good to be true – but give it a couple of minutes to reach a definitive juncture and not only are you convinced of its authenticity, you are hoping it won’t end.
And Mobley is not unaware of their talent to build and titillate. In fact, they can time it down to the second. Near the end of the Wednesday night set, the band used the video monitors to show nothing more than a timer counting down backwards to the specific point where the song would explode.
So what does all this energy SOUND like? There could be some hipster comparisons from moment to moment: Cold War Kids, Yeasayer, Brand New Immortals. But just when you think you’ve figured out the equation that makes the three musicians click, there is a sudden left turn – like a country-tinged ballad that suddenly becomes funky and distorted mid-way through, or a guitar jam that borrows from the book of James Brown.
“We need your help,” Watkins tells the meager but enamored crowd three-quarters of the way through the evening. “We are putting together a video for one of our new songs, but it is going to be collaborative.” He continues on, explaining that he wants everyone in the room to take video of the next number, utilizing the bevy of smart phones in the vicinity to be the band’s own unpaid camera crew.
“Send us this video and we’ll put your name in the credits – and send you a free copy of the single.” It was an offer few could refuse, and the Saloon suddenly became full of sharp angles and soft focus as dozens roamed with their cameras held high.
Mobley has something infectious and explosive and it doesn’t seem like such combustible music and performance can stay secret for long. Being able to see such a big show in such a small place was a privilege.
In the end, it may not have been Mobley with the winning hand after all.
Photo by Brian Eichenberger