Show Review: UNKLE with Sleepy Sun at The Regency Ballroom, 10/28/10

by Matthew Blake on October 31, 2010

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Fresh off the release of their newest album, Where Did The Night Fall, trip rock pioneers UNKLE return to San Francisco almost three years to the date of their last SF performance.  Competing with Game 2 of the World Series, James Lavelle’s live band would have to pitch a strong game in order to please the divided, yet loyal audience.  Would they deliver?

Let me introduce this group as not only a personal favorite, but their Mezzanine performance in 2007 was to be remembered as one of the best performances I’ve ever witnessed.  With the U.K. outfit that is UNKLE, James Lavelle brings many different tastes of music and blends it into one delightfully beautiful package, .  He got his first music start as a youngster promoting  parties and then graduated to running his own music label (Mo’ Wax Records), which has produced the likes of Bay Area native, DJ Shadow, among others.  UNKLE has followed a progression of work with many notable artists such as Ian Brown, Ian Astbury, Thom Yorke, and Josh Homme.  With borrowed musicians on board, such as Gavin Clark from Brit folk band, Clayhill, UNKLE jumped to the challenge of duplicating their complex studio sound into a live presentation.

Opening the evening would be local psych rock band, Sleepy Sun, who contributed to the track “Follow Me Down” on UNKLE’s latest record (yet another example of Lavelle’s involvement with highlighting newer groups).  At the time the openers took the stage, the crowd was unusually scarce, an obvious result of the Giants’ crucial second playoff game being in full swing.  Nonetheless, the SF rockers jumped right into a fierce set of rock that dually reminds one of a chilled out Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.  Having released their sophomore album earlier in the year with Fever, Sleepy Sun demands a listen and are to be taken seriously.  Perhaps a sign that Lavelle himself had summoned for their talents, the group rises to meet the listener’s needs for something new, something creative, by masterfully blending stoner metal with a deep sense of folk music.  Their performance Thursday night did not hold back the curiosity of those who were present.  They were crisp and powered through provoking ballads such as “Open Eyes,” entrancing one and all.

The Regency Ballroom is a Bermuda Triangle of sorts.  A mecca for Metalcore shows.  One could take a look at the building itself and admire its aged architecture and gain a historical feel, however, I have experienced on more than one occasion the venue’s innate ability to take away from what is normally a brilliant performance (with a few exceptions from the likes of Throbbing Gristle, Broken Bells and The Good, the Bad, & the Queen).  After an eerie video intro that sampled “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, UNKLE walked on stage and opened with the powerful track “The Answer”, never looking back.  They provided a good sampling of their catalog to date, although to the audience’s like or dislike, they avoided many of their more notable tracks in the place of others.

Lavelle, along with comrades Gavin Clark and Joel Cadbury (South), rotated on lead vocal duties while an ever changing arrangement of lights and psychedelically artistic videos flourished over the stage.  Lavelle and his group are known to be artistic presenters, as was highlighted in a unique animated sequence displaying caricatures of Ian Brown singing “Reign” and Josh Homme belting out on the groovy “Restless.”  Gavin Clark’s were simply amazing, and on a side note, his solo stuff as well as his work with folk band Clayhill are worth a listen.  After the lads thoroughly soaked the crowd with thought provoking sounds throughout the entire set, Joel Cadbury returned for a moving solo encore after the band took a short break, playing the soft yet dark acoustic tune, “Glow.”

As was eluded to to earlier, the Regency’s vibe has great potential at spoiling a good thing.  Such was the case with UNKLE, where the bass driven beats just seemed to overpower the magnificent melodies that make each song what it is, preventing listeners from gaining the full musical experience.  The crowd vibe just was not there, either.  Kudos to Mr. Lavelle for trying to get the attendees going, even congratulating the Giants once it was confirmed they had won.  Joel pleaded with the audience:  “Come on San Fran!”  Maybe it was the venue; maybe it was the fact the World Series was being played and ticket holders skipped the show to see baseball history; or perhaps this show was true to San Francisco form – unpredictable and borderline snobby.  Whatever the case, the LA show previous to this was a raucous sellout and the last UNKLE sighting in SF was monumental, so why could it not be repeated?  Thus is the live music world, but either way, UNKLE delivered and those in attendance were left with an impression.  It might not have been the most ideal setting but after all, if every show was a gem, we would get bored.  Some would view UNKLE as a musically experimental genius, no matter what the setting.  They show us how song arrangements should be done.  Their return is already highly anticipated.

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