The crowd snakes around tables and chairs, blocking waitstaff from serving drinks and tripping over-served patrons on their way to break the seal throughout Snowbyrd’s loose, bouncing, sporadically psychedelic set. So when singer-guitarist Chris Lutz commands the audience to “C’mon on up here,” and dance toward the end of the show, few people have the space to shuffle their feet, forget about walking up to the stage.
Worse, the previous song, “Uvalde Socialite” seemingly tipped the show’s precarious balance of foot-tapping and mind-expanding music. So far Snowbyrd has successfully embellished power-pop hooks and standard time signatures with extended soloing and Scott Lutz’s pedal-steel work, which seems more inspired by Jimi Hendrix than Roy Ayres. But this “work in progress,” built around strung-out spaghetti-western guitars and Chris and Scott’s jagged harmonies — is a fragmented thinkpiece, leaving a roomful of closed eyes and rooted shoes as its final notes fade.
But after some quick knob twiddling, Scott’s keyboard shifts from eerie imposing organ vibes into full-out, unapologetically cheesy wedding-dance-band mode, marking an up-tempo mood swing, and the startled audience can’t help but sway to the rhythm. Drummer Manny Castillo remains in the hospital after cancer surgery, but Johnny Hernandez is a more than adequate subsitute. Hernandez’s steady beat and natural time changes might be what’s keeping the crowd moving, but, seriously, in a place this crowded, one girl’s hip swivel means either a room full of corresponding adjustments or a 50-person pileup. The wallflowers shrink further toward the pool tables out back.
Closer “Light It Up ” — which Chris promises will appear as the first track on the band’s upcoming album — shakes the crowd into frenzied wiggling, threatening to domino the entire room with a single slip. Fortunately, the complicated garage-rock riff driving the rough and Kink-y song is surprisingly thoroughly danceable, and it gets a group of soccer moms up front shaking their asses quicker than a faithful Tom Petty cover could. If there’s any justice, look for the song on an upcoming iPod commercial.
Friends of Manny Castillo, drummer for Snowbyrd and executive director for San Anto Cultural Arts, held a vigil on his behalf December 27. For video footage of the event go to sacurrent.com.