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Another Haikiew: The Fresh & Onlys @ The Independent in SF Are Cool And Ask You To Be As Well...

SF's Fresh & Onlys are both fresh and only!...Photo by Halli Forster-Celli
The internet buzz grinder loves to run bands up a flagpole based on the merits of one song or a compelling backstory.  Often, this early point in a band's evolution is a time when they are still finding themselves and experimenting with different sounds.  Having a label pinned on you as the new "it band" almost freezes you in time, just ask Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah.  The resultant critical pigeonholing and the inevitable backlash from the hipsters that first flocked to what they wanted to believe was their own discovery, are the rocky shores today's bands navigate.  San Francisco's The Fresh & Onlys have avoided these pitfalls by sheer force of will, a purposeful emphasis on songcraft, and an almost reptilian skin shedding ability.  Early incarnations of this SF quintet's three year history featured female back-up singers, keyboards, and a decidedly garage-psyche orientation.  With the release of their latest album, Play It Strange, The Fresh & Onlys have achieved the full-blown promise the two previous releases hinted at or obscured in lower fidelity recordings.  The band always possessed a distinct sound and vision which separated them from the rest of the musical herd but the razor tight performance the band put on at San Francisco's Independent last Friday night felt like the dream realized.

Tim Cohen...Photo by RLC
The Fresh & Onlys were back in their hometown in support of England's Clinic, another singular musical experience.  Frontman and bandleader Tim Cohen set the tone for the night when he implored the near capacity crowd, "to be cool to one another, and buy someone you don't know a drink."  While that probably didn't happen much and drummer Kyle Gibson offered a heckler a less hospitable alternative to enjoying the evening, the band definitely made good on Gibson's promise by kicking ASS!  A lot has already been written about Tim Green's production work on the new album as being the most polished of the band's three full-length releases.  While that is undebatable, the real achievement is in Cohen's progression as a songwriter.  He has always had a gift for writing oblique pop gems, quirky and idiomatic songs that also have a familiar quality.  Live, what I was struck by, is how each member of the band puts their own stamp on these compositions without ever detracting from the whole.  Cohen's baritone vocals are somehow light enough to float above the music while giving the songs an anchor for the other instruments to swirl around.  The rhythm section of Gibson and bassist Shayde Sartin provide the band with a restrained but powerful engine.  An added percussionist flanked Cohen and augmented the live sound with the right amount of shimmer and clicks.  He was refreshingly not distracting in his role and a welcome addition to the band.

Wymond Miles bathed in lights...Photo by Robert Celli
For me the real determining strain in The Fresh & Onlys DNA has always been guitarist Wymond Miles.  Miles tone, guitar parts, and leads bring to life Cohen's moody vision.  Notes crackle off his Jaguar like sparks off a beach fire, or reverberate out his vintage Vox amp like an acid soaked Dick Dale riding a wave into the beach.  Songs like "Waterfall", the first single from the new album, reflect the polish and attack he brings to their sound.  Other songs of note from the band's set were "Grey-Eyed Girl" seamlessly morphing into "Invisible Forces" off last year's Grey Eyed Girls.  "Until The End Of Time" whipcracked across an Eastwoodian landscape which would have made Ennio Morricone proud.  The jaunt of "Fascinated" crystalized the direction The Fresh & Onlys seem to be heading in, angular and distilled psyche-pop on par with the best psychedelic music San Francisco has produced.  The hour long set flew by in a wash of cascading sheets of sound.  The audience marching and swaying in place, a glow in the shift of lights and "being cool" to one another.  The following is my Haiku review or, "Haikiew", of the show...and below is some unedited footage shot on my trusty FlipCam of "Fascinated" and "Until The End Of Time".


Space frontier amp sting

Warm and deep voice hung in air

Watched by smokey eyes

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