Live Music: Happy Body Slow Brain at the Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco
If you’re still looking for a New Year’s resolution that will both enhance your life and not be so easily discarded, might I suggest that a great choice would be to see more live music? If you go to see some bands that you don’t know too much about at one of your local venues, you could be very positively surprised with what you find. I decided that this would be a good goal last Friday night when I went to see Happy Body Slow Brain at San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill, as I ended up discovering a couple other exciting groups that weren’t previously on my radar.
San Jose’s Case in Theory was the first band I caught this night, and their spacey jams brought the crowd into a communal mind warp. Lead singer Jonathan Posadas’ smooth vocals were expertly paired with strings of clear toned harmonizing guitar and bass notes that moved in step with one another before breaking apart into heavier distorted chord progressions. Drummer Jamin Bracken tapped out complex rhythms that held both the rough and soft interludes together as the songs progressed through many different stages before usually wrapping up as an extended jam that allowed for additional instrumental experimentation from all band members.
The next act up was Gavin Castleton, and the mood of the music shifted in a more funky direction. Castleton stood at front and center in between two sharply dressed guitarists, clutching a keytar close to his body as one might latch on to a beloved teddy bear. The band collectively jumped into life as if they had been shocked, and their animated playing didn’t stop until the show was over. High pitched harmonized vocals danced over minimalist rhythm guitar parts before landing solidly in the web of sticky bass lines as the band progressed through many different genres.
The muted organ ballad “The Song You Didn’t Write” got a great reaction from the audience as it slowly built up into a fully-fledged emotive pop song. During one of the band’s rock tunes, the two guitarists that flanked Castleton suddenly stopped playing and broke out into a chorus of clapping patterns. Just as soon as they had switched, they jumped back right into the jam, grinning all the while. The band was obviously having a great time on stage, and this energy translated to the audience who rocked from side to side as they were pulled by Castleton’s magnetic melodies throughout the whole set.
After a short break, Happy Body Slow Brain took the stage to close out the night. The crowd filled in on every side around the stage to soak up the prog rock jams that were somehow both mellow and intense at the same time. Drummer Javier Torres started off with slow and delicate rhythms, but always seemed to be attacking the drum kit from ten different directions by the end of each song. Guitarists Matt Fazzi and Isaac Bolivar also doubled on vocals and keys, and the wall of sound that they spawned along with Jason Holthouser’s fluid bass lines was truly something to behold. Lucid guitar solo notes crossed in and out of one another as spooky chord progressions drifted through the mix.
I had listened to Happy Body Slow Brain’s debut album Dreams of Water quite a few times, but seeing this band live really brought everything together for me in a whole new adrenaline inducing light. You couldn’t help but just get lost in the epic jams that were unfolding on stage. During “Never Loved,” each band member looked to be in a violent zen state as they switched from heartfelt quiet stretches of piano-dominated verses to gritty raw choruses of pent up combustive emotion. The sensitive intro morphed into a heavy groove, and I couldn’t help but smile widely after spotting a few girls across the room that were similarly lost in the music and belting out every lyric back at the band.
The musicians’ last song was distorted assault on the audience with erratic yet cohesive riffs. They were quickly called back out onto the stage for an encore, and then finished the night with a last burst of energy for their performance of “Move at Different Speeds (On The Road).” It left everyone dazed and in high spirits at Bottom of the Hill, and judging from the band’s name, this show can of course be considered a success. So! If you do still need a New Year’s resolution, I can’t recommend seeing more live music enough. If you can catch any of these bands on a future tour, you’ll be in for a great night and your 2013 will be fulfilled (in terms of your successful resolution!). And really, how’s that for a great deal?