On first approach, the muted demeanor of the State Room catches no attention. However, by the time my night was over, I would never forget it. My partner in crime for the night and I entered the venue a bit before the show, and when Cutthroats were duly placed in our hands, we sauntered into the dimly lit main room to wait for the magic.
Immediately, when inside, the familiar green/tan of church pews elicited a double take. I chuckled at their new fate and graced one with the weight of my ass. After a few sips (and a congenial conversation with a man directly in front of me, who had seen Diego’s Umbrella before and was highly impressed), the schema of color in the small room cooled down and darkened.
Aaron Cheatham of Vokab Kompany sprung onto the stage and dug his forefinger unforgivingly into the strings on his bass with a raised chin while other members of the group, Alvaro Nunez on drums, Geoff Nigl on keyboards and Spencer Sharpe on fiddle, snuck mischievously into the light. The song built instrument by instrument until Vokab Kompany lay down deafening funk back track. At the same time as Robbie Gallo and Matt Burke emerged from the murky cesspool behind the backstage curtains, most of the 30-something, drunk, female audience members skated into the standing room up front.
Spacey looped guitar paired with Middle-Eastern inspired violin solos created a spirit I had never before witnessed. Both Gallo and Burke have original, rapid flow that adds even more to the creative ambiance of their musical project. Over the course of the act, the bass lines became so gritty that rebellious housewife types of all ages were dropping it low and wagging their arms around in floppy “gang-signs.”
During the set, I had a hard time picking out the vocals, and as a lyric-centric performance that was a disappointment. Hilarious stage presence (multiple hip thrusts, strange faces and bouts of stretching his shirt over his face from Burke) and remarkable dexterity from Sharpe kept both Vokab and their returning/new fans entertained. Multiple sweaty chests and spilled cocktails later, Vokab rumbled out of sight but not out of mind. I would not be surprised if they become martyrs for the new uprising of hip hop.
Another round of Cutthroats, and I was lubed up just enough for San Francisco gem Diego’s Umbrella. Bejeweled gloves ablaze under the disco ball, Vaughn Lindstrom lifted his arms toward the ceiling in a slow arc. Benjamin Leon took his place at the makeshift snare set, looking severe, and Jake Wood tromped over to the full drum-set, also intimidating. Two bass pounds later, Lindstrom’s arms were by his side, and a ska-laden Spanish track was flowing from the semi-circle of amps snuggling the band into their respective sections of the rostrum.
With feet planted to the stage, the sextet rumbled through their glam rock-inspired opener. After their warm-up track, Diego’s was loose and ready to jam. A good mix of older tracks was balanced with some new melodies from their synthy, fresh release, Modern Cowboy.
After a heady performance of “MTV-Brasil,” their sponsor “Columbian Decaf Coffee Crystals” (seemingly perfect for an audience in Utah) was comically mentioned. Following this small break, they lilted into a song that could have been cut straight from a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. Diego’s Umbrella bopped back and forth charmingly, small smirks adorning their roguish features.
Subsequently, the song blended back into gypsy panache, and Wood stood up, throwing his entire body weight into his drumsticks with each thump, straightening and squatting over his percussive contraption like an ogre. Following one final bend of his trunk-like knees, he swung his bass drum up onto his belly with a few attached snares and cymbals and lunged offstage in a frenzy. A circle formed around him while he swirled and stomped around thrashing the drums like a toy monkey. The trove of female onlookers squealed and jumped around, channeling a pack of wild hyenas.
When he had narrowly escaped back onto stage, they flowed sassily into another performance from Viva la Juerga, “Pants.” How well the violin translated over to live performance impressed me. All of the instruments and separate vocal harmonies could be easily picked out as well as individual performance styles. During their final number, Jason Kleinberg (violin), Kevin Blair (bass) and Tyson Maulhart (guitar) skanked offstage and leaned on each other and crowd members in the most uncomfortable and difficult looking ways until the finale released and they could lay in a crumpled mess onstage.
Months of anxiously waiting to see Diego’s Umbrella live has paid off tremendously on my end. Not only do I have a better understanding of their new album, I also have a new musical development to delve into (Vokab). If only I had a time machine so I could go back to Oct. 9 and the State Room and relive it all over again. Luckily, my memory serves me well, and both groups have promised to return. You can listen to tracks from both bands on their websites: vokabkompany.com and diegosumbrella.com.