By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Taking their signature mix of progressive rock, knotty jazz fusion and hooky AM pop influences into bold new territory, Oakland favorites Once and Future Band headline the Independent in San Francisco this Saturday night.
Anchored by frontman and keyboard/guitar player Joel Robinow, Once and Future Band first came together in 2012. Made up of veteran musicians who already had a history together — Robinow and bassist Eli Eckert were both members of experimental riff rockers Drunk Horse in addition to playing with drummer Raj Ojha in local psych-guitar hero Ethan Miller’s band Howlin’ Rain — the group coalesced to give Robinow’s ever-growing book of songs an outlet outside his home recordings.
Early line-ups of Once and Future Band would feature noted Bay Area guitar wizards Isaiah Mitchell (the Earthless and Golden Void virtuoso who was also part of the same storied version of Howlin’ Rain) and Phil Manley (Trans Am, The F—ing Champs), who contributed to the group’s 2014 recording debut, the Brain EP.
The four songs on the EP featured soaring synth and Fender Rhodes sonics that recalled the majesty of ’70s prog-rock icons Yes and Genesis, but tempered the grandiose sounds with Robinow’s soulful vocals and knack for nestling pop hooks in the midst of the complex song structures. The EP garnered rave reviews for it’s canny updating of the progressive-rock template.
The band would later welcome guitarist Raze Regal (of local psych band Planes of Satorai) as a full-time member. That line-up would produce this latest recording and the Once and Future Band’s debut full-length for Thee Oh Sees main man John Dwyer’s Castle Face Records.
The dazzling self-titled effort is simultaneously more ambitious and more accessible, weaving candy-coated high harmony vocals and earworm melodies worthy of Harry Nilsson, Steely Dan’s Becker/Fagan combination and ELO mainstay Jeff Lynne into the tunes’ meticulously crafted arrangements. But where their ’70s prog-rock forebears would sometimes drift into ponderous pretension, songs like the ascendant opener “How Does It Make You Feel?” and the joyfully propulsive “Rolando” have an undeniably infectious vibe.
Since celebrating the release of the album last January, the band has remained busy. In addition to playing it’s first ever run of arena shows opening for experimental metal mavericks Tool on the East Coast which introduced their eclectic sound to thousands of new fans, the band was invited to play post-punk icons Wire’s curated DRILL Festival in Los Angeles last spring and recently shared the stage with like-minded Swedish psychedelic explorers Dungen for a number of shows around Northern California that saw former guitarist Mitchell rejoining the band as a special guest.
The band showcases songs from their recent release at this headlining gig at the Independent Saturday night. Along for the ride will be Pink Mountaintops, the melodic indie-rock side project of Black Mountain main man Stephen McBean, and ambitious Oakland post-rock/soul collective Meemaa. Renowned SF indie songwriter Kelley Stoltz and Dirty Ghosts leader Allyson Baker will also tag team at the turntables, spinning musical selections before and between bands.
Once And Future Band with Pink Mountaintops
Saturday, August 26, 8:30 p.m. $18-$20