Patchy rain and ominous gray clouds weren't enough to dissuade an eclectic crowd from gathering at Pisgah Brewery for the silk-smooth harmonies and rhythmic grooves of local folk-rock foursome Uncle Mountain, as they opened for Now You See Them on a drowsy Friday evening.
Diving into their set without a word, the musicians of Uncle Mountain appeared to be in their own world, oblivious to whether or not anyone was paying attention. Fortunate, because a number of people weren't: Distracted by beer and conversation, a majority of the ever-growing crowd mingled in the drizzling rain of Pisgah's outdoor patio, chatting softly over smoldering cigarettes.
But Uncle Mountain played on, undeterred, filling the concrete warehouse with the soothing melody of Ryan Furstenberg, and Dan Shearin's noodling guitar interplay, while drummer Ryan Lassiter provided a tasteful but ever-changing percussive backbone and multi-instrumentalist Matt Williams rotated between bass, mandolin and violin. But it was the band's razor-sharp vocal harmonies that stood out on songs like "Mona Lisa."
The four-part a cappella intro to "Borderline" (that intro is not included on the Salt Sweet and Memory Feet album) would give The Eagles' "Seven Bridges Road" a run for its money. And, as Furstenberg and Shearin traded lead vocal duties, the sound was a bit Paul Simon and a lot Crosby, Stills and Nash — an inspired marriage of rhythm and harmony, with an Appalachian tinge that the more-than-capable lineup pulled off with confidence and ease.
Despite the obvious perils of playing in a small space with the acoustics of a gymnasium, the sound was nearly perfect throughout, with the exception of Furstenberg's lead occasionally overwhelming some of the more subdued tracks, especially after Now You See Them's Shane Conerty joined the lineup on ukulele.
However, as the sun set over the hazy mountains and the outer cargo doors were lifted, Uncle Mountain hit its stride, easing into a string of increasingly up-tempo numbers with gritty harmonica and frantic, "Devil Went Down To Georgia" fiddling that the now-damp patio crowd could not resist. Soon, a few lonely dancers began dipping and swaying at the foot of the stage, and it was clear the music had defeated the rain.
By the time the band finished its set with the rambling, Willie Nelson-inspired "Peace of Mind," there was hardly a soul to be found on the drying patio, and Pisgah Brewery had the rambunctious feel of a basement house party, a far cry from the quiet, circular conversations of just half an hour ago and proof that Uncle Mountain will not go unnoticed.
Uncle Mountain plays the Purple Onion in Saluda on Thursday, July 15, and at Jack of the Wood on Friday, July 16. Learn more at myspace.com/unclemountain.