In an era where genre revivals have become commonplace, there is one that hasn’t quite got the 21st-century makeover it truly deserves. That genre is progressive rock. Its history is not a stunningly long one as its heyday was mainly in the early 70’s, but prog was a key element in the canon of rock ‘n’ roll for many decades to follow. Enter Oakland’s Once and Future Band to bring a forgotten style out of the shadows and cruise ships and back to the Bay Area’s indie music scene.
Having played in the Bay the past few years, Once and Future Band have been a well-kept secret among those in the psych-rock scene as they have supplied support for groups like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Battles, to name just a few. Nevertheless, on this Thursday night in late January, most fans at The Chapel had to come to terms with the fact that the secret is out. This banner evening, along with the release of the group’s self-titled debut LP, was a new beginning for a band that has worked tirelessly to curate a sound and style all on its own while drawing in curious ears with a heavy dash of prog rock in addition to a laundry list of legendary influences.
Early arrivals were treated to a pair of SF’s finest rock acts holding down support duties. Dirty Ghosts delivered a stellar set of their choicest tracks led by Allyson Baker, who channeled the likes of Joan Jett in a most impressive manner. As the room filled for Kelley Stoltz, it was pretty evident that the word on this show had traveled far and wide. Stoltz subsequently proved why he’s one of the best performers in the Bay as his sequined jacket acted as a de facto disco ball while he utilized the whole stage as a manner to infuse more charisma into tracks like “Kim Chee Taco Man” and “Double Exposure”. Oh yeah, and he doesn’t like litter bugs either, so take note.
It was a bit past 11 p.m. by the time Once and Future Band took the stage, and those fans who feared a slightly delayed start would cut into their time to play were treated to a whopper of a show. Principal songwriter Joel Robinow, formerly of Howlin’ Rain, addressed the exuberant crowd, and many were simply thrilled to see him back onstage after recently healing from a serious elbow injury. Robinow informed us that we’d be treated to the new release from front to back and launched into “How Does it Make You Feel?”, a blistering fury of space prog that was complete with Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies and more keys and synths than most folks can deal with on the day-to-day. A statement had been made early on as Robinow and his bandmates had fans at The Chapel eating out of their hands within a matter of minutes.
One of the most fascinating aspects of digging into Once and Future Band, and by extension, recommending them to all my musically-inclined acquaintances, is listening which influences they hear in their material, including acts such as Yes, Steely Dan, Zappa, Jeff Lynne and ELO, Pink Floyd and almost anything involving Steven Wilson. Even with a deep bag of influences worn proudly on their sleeves, Once and Future Band churn out a sound that is still as wholly original. “I’ll Be Fine” into “Hide & Seek” were highlights as the lengthy tracks weaved a path of concise musicianship held down by the ever-impressive rhythm section of Eli Eckert (bass, and vocals) and Raj Ojha (drums). Another highlight of the set was the second single released from the record, entitled “Tell Me Those Are Tears of Joy”, which featured the succinct guitar mastery of the ever-stylish Raze Regal.
An extended encore included the bulk of the band’s equally impressive EP Brain. Songs like “Heavenly Bodies” and “Destroy Me” were powerful closing statements for what was already a breathtaking display of prog prowess that showcased Once and Future’s ability to connect with a rather wide, growing fan base. The stamp of Castle Face Records and Burger Records also lends itself to the notion that something special is happening here, something that will catch on as the name continues to spread like the feverish wildfire that assimilates to Once and Future Band’s playing.