The lineup at Soda Bar last Friday night was a testament to the power of authentic American country music. Both John Meeks and River City played sets of music so steeped in Americana that it felt as if the sunny vibe of San Diego had faded away and been replaced with something cozier, more familial, and at times darker than anything we’ve come to know in this beautiful Southern California town.
The sets evoked what it must be like to live in a place like Nashville or Austin, where you can walk into a bar at any hour of the day and hear fantastic country music at its finest. It should make San Diegans proud to know that both of these bands, who could easily hold their own in a town like Austin or Nashville, call our fair city their home. And as much as both Meeks and River City seemed to be channeling the rich sounds and history of American music, they did it in very different ways.
Meeks’ music sits nestled nicely between sparse, neverending landscapes and the lush tapestry you might find within these landscapes if you took the time to look around. It conveys a sense of pushing forward through the darkness while also taking the time to recognize the beauty of the darkness itself (Jason Molina would be proud).
This element of his work was expressed beautifully during moments of Friday’s set, like when Meeks would put his guitar on a loop, pick up a trumpet, and add a tasteful flourish of brightness to the hypnotic and oftentimes brooding sound. As perfect as this all would have been on its own, the feeling of desolation was amplified further by the distorted, otherworldly sounds coming from the series of gadgets/boxes that band member Matt Resovich played onstage. If David Lynch ever makes a Western, these guys need to do the score.
Meeks’ set went by way too quickly, but in that time he effectively transported the audience through the darkness and into the bright, sometimes jubilant sounds of River City.
Six members in all, River City’s lineup — complete with banjo, fiddle, bass, guitar, drums, and even a mandolin thrown in for good measure — looked like they were about to play some good ole fashioned bluegrass music. But what came out of the speakers was a lot more dynamic than any bluegrass music I’ve ever heard. Each song seemed to be an experiment of sorts, testing how far River City could push the country genre before it became something else entirely.
But they never crossed that line, and the music’s country roots remained intact. Between the many different instruments being played and the many different styles River City seem so heavily influenced by, it must have been quite a feat to keep everything so cohesive and tight; but they pulled it off like it’s what they were born to do.
River City ended the night with some great music and both bands left me feeling excited and optimistic about the San Diego music scene. Take that, Nashville.