Even before pro surfer-turned-groove-rocker Donavon Frankenreiter took the stage at The Orange Peel last night, the modest-but-enthusiastic crowd in a celebratory mood. The free copies of Frankenreiter’s new CD, Glow and the fake mustaches (especially funny on winsome, long-haired girls) certainly didn’t hurt. (For those not familiar with Frankenreiter, in addition to his thrift-shoppy, 70s wardrobe of bellbottom jeans, fedoras and floppy, crocheted caps, he sports a thick mustache and regularly films his Mustache Manifesto — short podcasts — while on tour.)
Along with the shwag, there was was other compelling evidence that this would be a slick production: The tour bus parked outside the Peel with Frankenreiter’s face on the side, and a message to text “GLOW” to some number. And the equipment trailer with the whole band, all wearing Sanuk apparel.
Indeed, from the opening notes the band proved to be immaculately rehearsed, launching into “All Around Us.” Though Frankenreiter is touring Glow, he interspersed new tracks with lots of hits from his back catalog: “Life, Love & Laughter” (with vintage piano), “Your Heart” (with cornet), and “What’cha Know About.” The first handful of songs were polished to a high gloss with little (if any) variation from Frankenreiter’s albums. His four-piece band (who, by the way, looked like the offspring of Frankenreiter himself and Asheville musician Seth Kauffman, what with their shaggy haircuts, fedoras, butterfly collars and lithe musicianship) easily providing the accents and flourishes that make Frankenreiter’s laid back, beachy, feel-good songs just funky enough to stand out from the whole Jack Johnson/Brushfire genre that launched Frankenreiter’s career.
Half-a-dozen songs in, the band seemed to loosen up a bit, adding a few jams (albeit, carefully choreographed ones), and Frankenreiter engaged the audience a few times, offering a beer to a guy celebrating a birthday. A bath of purple lights and spacey intro dropped into Frankenreiter’s opus, “Move By Yourself.” Steady kit drum and solid funk bass provided a bass for some piano noodling and a tastefully-rocked-out electric guitar solo by Frankenreiter.
Except for a couple of loud songs, most of the set was pretty mellow with the easy, sunny kind of energy for which Frankenreiter is known. (AllMusic recently semi-panned Glow, writing, “Frankenreiter does little here that sounds wrong (or right), reassuring listeners that ‘everything will be all right’ on a song that’s titled, naturally, ‘All Right.’” Yeah, there is a theme of all rightness/be yourselfness/feel goodness. But what’s so bad about that? The collective playlist can’t be all Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done” and Richard Buckner’s “Boys, The Night Will Bury You.”)
Following a lanky, ukulele-tinged rendition of “Free,” Frankenreiter told the crowd, “It’s really meant a lot to us to be back in Asheville. It’s a cosmic town.” (The musician recorded at Echo Mountain last year, and played the Orange Peel in 2008.) He then played “Dance Like No One’s Watchin’” and his new single, “Glow” before promising a prize to whomever could first name the “deep cut” the band was about the play. They launched into the opening bars of “Sweet Home Alabama,” but it turned out to be a joke. The surprise was not really a deep cut as such, but a lovely and unexpected cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” with a slow, waltzy tempo, two-part harmony and Frankenreiter’s bassist performing a haunting harmonica solo.
Frankenreiter wrapped his set with “Call Me Papa,” letting the audience take the verse, “Don’t forget your mama’s my baby, too” before segueing into an instrumental from “Layla.”
From start to finish, the show was a happy, relaxing and completely enjoyable affair, and if Frankenreiter was shy to start, he quickly warmed and gave a sweet and professional performance.