By My Nguyen Feb 20th 2012
The Sunset Sessions, an annual music-business event held in San Diego since 2007, that has launched careers including those of Jack Johnson, Ryan Adams, Five for Fighting, Pete Yorn, and Jason Mraz, celebrated their fifteen years this past week from Feb. 16-19. Monday night at the Belly Up was the Sunset Sessions’ after party, officially titled, Sunset Sessions New Music Adventure. Headlining the event were the Makepeace Brothers, an enthusiastic brotherly ensemble from Venice Beach, CA.
But before we could get to the heart of the night, the opening acts for the Sunset Sessions New Music Adventure that ranged from over-the-top colorful acts to more melodious and melancholy performances, created quite a stirring affair for what was initially supposed to be a mellow Monday evening of music. Getting a mixture of sounds and styles from performers who’s already graced the stage at the Rancho Bernardo Inn the past weekend, those of us who could not attend the Sunset Sessions at the RB Inn got to sample material from the rising musical acts currently being endorsed by the people behind Sunset Sessions.
The Chicago-based band, The Empty Pockets opened up their set right off the bat on a Bossa Nova note, a flashy and loud rendition that showed those congregating farther from the stage that they were in for a surprise. Because when The Empty Pockets play, they don’t just go through the motions of belting out tunes and revving their guitars to impress you – their performances are offset with a vibrancy and a sort of energetic showmanship so that space and distance don’t matter in the end – rather it’s more of which of their carefully crafted songs will strike a chord within you first. And only once the audience got the groove of this did things really pick up for The Empty Pockets.
Toe-tapping and head-bouncing to the time of the witty pop songs that were catchy and at times interwoven with a 50’s retro feel, The Empty Pockets were doing a fantastic job of warming up the crowd to an anticipated night of great music. Slowing to a lovey groove and then to a bluesy-swaying rock rendition, the songs played that night went from classic pop-rock to doo-wop influences in a matter of seconds, so that by the time their set ended, The Empty Pockets left in the wake of the crowd a trail of music aficionados.
Clark Graham, a singer/songwriter from Los Angeles, CA, who was up next, piqued the interest of audience members upon the first rising notes of “Born Yesterday.” With little by way of introduction, his heart-breaking songs have a touch of Bob Dylan to them. Up next was a folk-bluesy song, titled, “Tough Luck,” which Graham had said just recently debuted on the radio station Sophie 103.7, before springing into the intimate track that carried with it many a cynical turn of phrase that delved into tough love.
After a while, the Belly Up started to possess a coffee lounge-feel as the acoustic melodies from Clark Graham’s guitar wafted and filled the room. Graham, being a very emotive singer and these being serious songs, after a while Graham’s vocals gave the songs he performed that night the impression that this was some sort of cathartic release. His smoky vocals were solid, and towards the closing of Graham’s set, you start to see instances of the four-member British folk-outfit, Mumford and Sons, in him. In “Barroom Symphony,” it was hard to shake off the melancholy permeating the song. After a while you can’t help but feel immersed in the moody atmosphere.
The Los Angeles artist that sounded the most mainstream that night had to be Dawn Mitschele. Perhaps taking her cues from Nashville artist, Kate Herzig and the mononymous, Adele, Mitschele’s oftentimes bluesy tracks were painted with love much like the symbols that were affectionately painted on her guitar, noticeably deflecting against the soft glow of the stage-lights. As the talented Los Angeles singer-songwriter croons about a woman looking for her king in “Queen,” and about the subtle nuances of love and relationships in “Once Again Friends,” the crowd began to get a deeper sense of who Mitschele was as an artist. A dancer or two began to make the lonely sojourn to the foot of the stage, slow dancing with themselves in time to the melodic tunes toward the latter half of her set.
The Brothers of Brazil were perhaps the most unpredictable outfit of that night. Donning matching red suits, one brother on the electric guitar and the other with wild Doc-hair from “Back to the Future,” and both throwing their vocals into the mixture that was The Brothers of Brazil, their funky, and eclectic set, with its crazy changes in modulations from shrieks to soothing and oftentimes melodious sound was disconcerting. But after a while you start to accept them for what they are, and begin to enjoy them much like you would a theatrical act. For the most part the songs performed that night by The Brothers of Brazil had dialogue that the brothers would intercept into the singing, so that the storyline became something that bordered on musical theater. They had a punk aesthetic to them that can’t be missed. And ebbing on foul behavior, they ironically brought trashy up a notch with their bits of French phrases scattered throughout the songs. But all in all, there was too much playing around, sometimes at the expense of the crowd, so that eventually some of us in the audience that night began to filter out The Brothers of Brazil as so much white noise.
The main act of that night, the Makepeace Brothers, perhaps had the most star-appeal with the ladies. With their boyishly charming looks, and great vocal abilities, upon hitting the first few notes had all the girls, young and old, surrounding the stage, and showing off their dance moves. It was a night filled with little inhibit as the Makepeace Brothers, who originally hailed from Ithaca, NY, threw themselves into each song as quintessentially impassioned as from the start. They were feeding off the crowd’s energy as much as the crowd was feeding off theirs; so that each song began resemble a bon-fide jam session in its own right. The Makepeace Brothers were singing about breaking down walls, and they certainly were as people left and right were moved each in their own way, whether to dance or just to perk up their ears, and listen.