The Stone Foxes win points for an impressively fast set change following openers Guthrie Brown and the Family Tree. And if the room at Asheville Music Hall wasn’t exactly packed on Saturday night, the San Francisco-based blues and funk rockers didn’t let on that they noticed. From the first song, the band seemed ready to befriend the entire audience and perform at full-throttle, no warm-up required.
Then again, “It Ain’t Nothing” isn’t the kind of song a band could pull off half-heartedly. More Southern rock than West Coast in spirit, the guitars whined, the cymbals crashed and the harmonica levied threats. “She Said Riot” started off darker and a little bit slower. The wah peddle gave a mysterious warble and the intensity built to a crisis. And while the song showcased the band’s adept sense of dynamics, pent-up energy, barely leashed, waited to explode into its loudest stanzas.
That song was inspired by the band’s involvement with the Occupy movement, so there’s substance to the writing. But there’s also a palpable sense of fun. “Well I couldn’t understand a single word she said, she talks about Picasso and the book she read,” they sing in the strutting (and hopefully tongue-in-cheek) “Psycho.” By that song, the Stone Foxes were in their groove. With its menacing guitars and thick drum beat, darkness was conjured from the music and the band plumbed the sonic mud for swaying rhythms and eerie strands of counter-melody. The harmonica, more of a howl that a hum, added to the effect.
The tambourine got passed around on stage, as did drum, guitar and lead vocal duties. Founding member Shannon Koehler is equal parts front man and cheerleader when he’s center stage. His drumming is steady but driving — a perfect foil for the cool, cascading notes of “This Town.” Bassist and vocalist Vince Dewald also makes an apt frontman, and the attention centers on him when Koehler is behind the drum kit. Dewald is, by all appearances, perfectly cast in the lead singer role, and his vocals are pleasantly raspy.
But if there is a kind of schizophrenia between the personnel changes and the resulting mood and genre shifts, it serves to keep the musicians engaged and — by the looks of things — enthralled. Plus, by not cleaving to the confines of one genre, there’s room for each artist to stretch out. Elliott Peltzman’s keyboard parts nodded to psychedelia and a Big Brother and the Holding Company-era funk (neatly balancing the Southern rock flavors with some distinctly San Francisco influences), and drummer Brian Bakalian stitched all of the elements — disparate and otherwise — together.
A highlight of the show was the gorgeous violin contribution from Ben Andrews. While that instrument is used sparingly in the Stone Foxes’ catalog (probably a wise decision), its unique voice is so poignant and exacting that it leaves the listener wanting more. The best violin moment of the evening was on the swelling and dramatic “Cold Like a Killer.” The violin entered the melee with the most aching melody, its scratchy tremolo eventually fading into silence. It was every bit as effective as a rock guitar solo and, for its surprise factor, even more badass.