By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Taking their signature mix of progressive rock, knotty jazz fusion and pop into bold new territory, local favorites Once and Future Band headline a benefit concert for Keeping Families Together at the Chapel in San Francisco Thursday 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 its canny updating of the progressive-rock template.
The band would later welcome guitarist Raze Regal (of local psych crew 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 year, the band has remained busy. In addition to playing its first ever run of arena shows opening for experimental metal mavericks Tool on the East Coast (introducing 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 was a highlight of the Huichica Festival in Sonoma last month. The band headlines one of a series of benefit concerts being held at the Chapel Thursday night this month that will help raise funds for a variety of organizations working to reunite families split up by the zero-tolerance immigration policies of the Trump administration. Once and Future Band will be joined by the Leakers, a new all-star outfit led by noted singer/songwriters Sonny Smith and Cass McCombs and featuring the She’s bassist Sami Perez and veteran multi-instrumentalist Doug Hilsinger (Bomb, Enorchestra, Kelley Stoltz) on drums.
Once And Future Band
Thursday, July 5, 8 p.m. $16-$18