Photo by Joe Turner
It appears that music venues in San Anto exist on some sort of bipolar spectrum, with good sound and good vibe at opposite ends.
Where most of the neighbors on the St. Mary’s Strip have made various levels of sacrifice to achieve their vision of the Ideal Dive, the 502 Bar went the opposite way, swinging for truly bitchin’ audio, but at the expense of that grimy, rock club atmosphere. The choice resulted in what my girlfriend, who joined me last Friday at 502, called airport and bad bar mitzvah vibes.
But, to house their album release party, Colleens couldn’t have picked a better venue, packing the audiophilic 502 to showcase tracks from Wild Dreams, their self-released debut. The quintet ran through the album’s content with the ease and confidence of a young band celebrating their first record.
“About You,” Wild Dreams’ first single, displayed brothers Josh and Jon Harter’s knack for pop songwriting, structured around an amiable guitar arpeggiation and a nice little hook. With a bed of keys, in-the-pocket drumming and the twang accent of electric slide riffs, Colleens’ Wilco-esque flannel rock captured the 502. That, and Ranger Creek’s specialty brew for the evening, an amber ale designed by brewer Holland Lawrence to specifically enhance the Colleens’ aesthetic—wish I could tell you how the peachy brew tasted, but the tap ran dry long before my arrival.
As a young band, Colleens seem to struggle with the common challenge of rising above their influences, shedding their discipleship of Let It Be-era Beatles (complete with a solid “Get Back” cover) and a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot attitude for something more purely individual, a particular and unsealed twist on the artists in their record collection. Though the material on Wild Dreams offers a promise of notable work to come, Colleens are currently stuck in Kings-of Leon-lite mode, a quintet worth checking out only as second billing.
Hustling their equipment—including a badass, cumbersome and vintage Fender Rhodes—onto the stage to entice the attention of the night-owl crowd, Fishermen began their thing around 1:20 a.m. Where Colleens channeled late-era Beatles, Fishermen looked to a different pop archetype, settling into an expansive rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain” to shift the evening’s energy.
Undoubtedly, Fishermen’s strongest asset is singer Edwin Stephens’ voice, a floating instrument with supreme command over the upper register and an on-point falsetto. Atop the involved and well-orchestrated landscape laid down by guitarist Eli Medina, keyboardist Omar Rosel, bassist Roy Scavone and drummer Jeremy Dowd, providing rhythmic counterpoint, Fishermen offer one of SA’s best live sets.
Towards the end of the evening, after Fishermen proved the merit of their Dave Matthews meets Grizzly Bear aesthetic, after their extended and excellent “Orbs,” and after the enduringly bizarre spectacle of the Olympics opening ceremony broadcast on the wall, I couldn’t help but feel that the evening—despite some of the more critical words employed here—came together as intended. There’s a reason the 502 aimed for audio integrity over attitude, and a damn good one at that. Bands (like Colleens and Fishermen) that don’t need to hide behind a wall of reverb, seek out the 502 to display their oeuvre as intended. And the audience, looking for a good time in a Clean, Well-Lighted Place with Bangin’ Speakers, responds quite nicely.
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