It was a brisk Wednesday evening and few souls were out braving the cold, even for a triple bill at the Sunset--or the option of some of the Flying Squirrel pizza the venue recently added to the menu. Only a scattered handful of drinkers and diners were taking in the scene when San Diego singer/songwriter John Meeks ambled onstage with his guitar and three-piece band. His vocals were well-metered and mellow, and the down-home, alt-country set was augmented by rich harmonies and a sweet electric fiddle rigged with effects. Led by Meeks' strong songwriting, the band easily played a relaxed, rootsy Americana, calling to mind Son Volt, the Moondoggies, and the Byrds.
Mansions--aka Christopher Browder, a transplant to Seattle from North Carolina as of a week ago--played next. It was a stripped-down departure from the first act, raw and emo, just Browder on guitar and a friend on bass. His vocals were clear and strong, but the minimalist accompaniment polarized the room, still feeling out the folksy vibe of Meeks' country-tinged session. When Browder chatted about his recent move to Seattle and how he needed friends, an audience member added, "and a drummer." Browder was screaming over the chatter of the small, distracted crowd by the end of the set, but he maintained a friendly confidence as he wrapped things up, relieved, perhaps, that his first Seattle gig was over.
Headliner Jarrod Gorbel began shortly after 11 p.m., accompanied by yet another electric-violin player, one who plucked strings in the arpeggiated style of Andrew Bird and sang harmony. Gorbel's sweeping croon was resonant, he played a gorgeous Gibson hollow-body guitar, and the group's harmonies were pretty. Twenty or so fans came forward for his set and actually paid attention. Truth be told, his mumbling, awkward stories between songs were no match for my attention span--now headlong into a third act of wildly differing bands--and soon I was chatting away with a friend like the rest of the house.
The Crowd: Mixed, loud, distracted, with a sizable San Diego contingent.
The Venue: Used to smell like stale beer, now smells like baked cheese.
The Bill: Like snowflakes, no two bands were alike.