Smile Politely

Finer Feelings celebrate Dog Band album release

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story was published with some text missing, which has been updated here. We apologize for the issue.

The Friday night downtown crowd was out in full force, despite one of the muggiest, warmest nights of the summer. As the crowd trickled in, I was reminded of why Cowboy Monkey is one of the best venues in town–there is a proper stage, a proper sound system, and yet the space is small enough that it doesn’t take a hundred people to fill the place up. There is an impressive sampling of the C-U music community present — I note members of The Fights, Elsinore, We the Animals, Neoga Blacksmith/Waterfowl, Phantom Broadcast, Grand Ambassador, and Tara Terra in attendance. That kind of collegiality is what can make a local music scene great–investing time and attention in your peers’ craft.

Nick Rainey opened things up right at 9:00. He’s performing solo – singing and strumming electric guitar. He plays several covers, including songs by Dawes, Against Me!, and Buddy Holly. He finishes the set with a rendition of Elsinore’s “Yes, Yes, Yes.” He’s playing well, and his guitar sounds good, with just a touch of grit from a sparkling little silver face Fender amp. Nick’s voice fits right in with the Americana-filled bill. There is a hint of twang in his higher notes, but he’s also able to reach down deep for sonorous, resonant baritone notes. He whistles here and there, which adds some sonic texture to the set.

Penny Horses are up next. This is the second time that I have seen them. The last time was perhaps a year ago, on this same stage. While I enjoyed that set as well, I recall feeling that Tim McGee and Bryce Brown’s trade-off lead vocals, and presumably songwriting, felt like two different bands. Tonight, however, this sounds like one band. Ashley Laine’s backing vocals are a pleasant constant, providing a backdrop of textural consistency, bridging the gap between McGee’s more reserved delivery and Brown’s alt-country yowl. With six members, including three vocalists, three guitars, bass, and drums, this is a big band, and their sound is suitably deep and rich. The real star of the Penny Horses’ set just might be the rhythm section–providing an understated, driving backbone, interspersed with tasteful flourishes.

Finer Feelings take the stage next. Tonight celebrates the release of their latest album, Dog Band. They open with “The Notion,” the first track of the album. It’s a great track that begins with a bonham-esque groove. I’m thinking of “The Ocean,” for a minute. Chris Davies’ lightly overdriven guitar comes in, and steers the overall vibe back into indie/alt-country territory.

The four piece is dynamic, with Alleya Weibel switching between keyboard, violin, backing vocals, and bass. Her violin periodically punctuates the set with a sense of emotional gravitas. Jordan Schwartz switches comfortably between bass and guitar. Chris Davies plays guitar, and sings with a pleasant, distinctive, warbling tenor. He’s able to reach for the high notes without sounding strained. I am reminded at times of the higher end of Cold War Kids’ Nathan Willet’s range, or maybe the Lumineers, but otherwise I really can’t quite put my finger on the sound. Drummer Patrick Lyke provides the structure, and it’s a structure that varies frequently, often within the scope of a single song.

The band has a penchant for switching between pop-sensible indie verses, to jam-session breakdowns, to pedal-knob-twiddling noisy chaos, to country twang, and back to pop-sensibility again.Brad Olson, member of other standout local acts Waterfowl and Neoga Blacksmith, joins Finer Feelings for one track on guitar, adding an extra layer of telecaster twang.

Rebecca Rego and the Trainmen close out the set. On this evening, the Trainmen included Sam Gingher on piano, Evan Opitz (Phantom Broadcast) on guitar, Eric Fitts on bass, and Matt Yeates (Marathon, Windmills) on drums. The set consists of looser, ambling, americana chordal passages, punctuated by tight unison licks. Rego has a sound of her own, with a voice that ranges from a reedy mellowness, to a harsher raspiness. She is a very capable guitarist, ranging from delicate finger picking, to lush strumming. The Trainmen are exceptional. Pianist Sam Gingher added delicate, sparkling arpeggios at times, and the occasional bawdier, honky-tonk-style accompaniment at others. Evan Opitz adds tasteful lead guitar–knowing when to hold back, and when to cut loose. The rhythm section was similarly exemplary. Eric Fitts’ driving bass playing was right on point, every song.  Matt Yeates you can always expect will play the right part for the song with a certain comfortable unconventionality, no matter the project. As with everyone in this band, his dynamic range is impressive, going from reserved and mild to beastly and thunderous. For her final song, Rego invited the previous acts on stage to join her in singing “Bury My Body;” an invitation that was happily accepted, finishing the show with yet another reaffirming display of collegiality.


You can purchase Finer Feelings’ Dog Band here.

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