Sacramento, by its nature and its history, is a place where expectations fall short of their intended aim.
During the late 1990s, the band Far created rock music that sounded like what it could be like to be young in Sacramento: more questions than answers, long roads of shimmer-hot blacktop, and frustration. Lead guy Jonah Matranga‘s vocal range within the space of one track could roam from gentle keening to the bare-throated howl of an animal one size larger than his small body.
The songs felt fearless, with the inertia of a determined plunge into the unknown. Unafraid to be delicate, unafraid to throw a violin over the mix, unafraid to attack thorny lyrical topics like faith and self and loss.
Far’s soaring melodic anthemic “Nineties alternative” rocknroll sounds like being young and strident and skeptical and putting a foot down hard on a gas pedal.
After releasing two major-label albums, the band disintegrated in 1999. Their second LP, Water & Solutions, grew in prominence after their passing. The aggressive, flexible, heartfelt thrust of Far’s sound inspired listeners and bands. Their music became influential, garnering posthumous accolades and meaningless portmanteaus long after they’d broken up: “post-hardcore;” “pre-emo;” “emo-metal.” Water & Solutions began being considered a classic album, a precursor and influence on the music that came afterwards.
Yes, that Ginuwine. The R&B crooner. The former members of Far cut together a cover of the song “Pony” as a lark. The song got onto commercial radio and went viral. Suddenly, Far were in demand — not for what they’d done in the past but for what was a toss-off track between friends.
Demand grew. The guys discussed the possibility of getting back together. It felt right, so they did. They played a few secret shows under the band name Hot Little Pony. There wasn’t any pressure — having long since broken up, they were playing with house money. Those who had missed the band and those who had missed-out on the band thronged concerts in California and the UK. In 2010, Far are now back together as a functioning band with a new album on the way.
Last night’s concert at Bottom Of The Hill wasn’t about the new music or even about “Pony” — it was about celebrating the past without wallowing in it.
“Here’s to the past,” said Matranga as he introduced the song “Bury White,” from Water & Solutions. “Here’s to letting go to make room for right now. This is a beautiful right now!”
Before a reverent crowd, Far performed nothing but old songs. (Partially because they hadn’t gotten together to practice the new ones yet.) When unencumbered by guitar, Matranga ranged gleefully across the stage and subwoofers like a spider monkey, exhorting the crowd to sing louder. Enthusiasm spilled off him in sheets. The audience shouted, sang and bellowed every word of every song back at him. A woman stage-left let loose with Beatles-grade shrieks. Grins all around. A sea of arms overhead punctuated every musical point of catharsis with outstretched arms, pointed fingers, and hands grasping upward.
Far’s music isn’t necessarily happy-making, but when you have a crowd in a room charged with energy all singing as one — the feeling of release is incontrovertibly wondrous
“I just saw someone dancing and didn’t know if they were making fun of me or having a great time,” said Matranga between songs through his sweat and a smile. “Everybody, don’t even try to act cool. One of the few things I’ve learned is that trying to be cool at a rock show is a really really big waste of time, so let’s just have a really great time!”
Nearing the concert’s end, the band refused to cede the stage. “OK, everybody close your eyes,” Matranga ordered, talking the whole venue through a false encore. “We’ve left the stage. We might come back. Nothing like this has ever happened before,” he joked as he led into a ferocious rendition of “Wear It So Well.”
There was no “Pony” to be had.
In one arcing night, Far celebrated the past without being enmired in it and set course for the future, guilelessly rebuffing any semblance of expectation.
Far at The Bottom Of The Hill in San Francisco, CA, USA
Waiting For Sunday
I Like It
Water & Solutions
In The Aisle, Yelling
What I’ve Wanted To Say
Job’s Eyes (with impromptu lyrics from “Savory” by Jawbox)
Wear It So Well
Jessica Hilberman contributed to this story.