Photo by Courtney Garcia
Only at The Independent, San Francisco’s low key, hipster music dive, could The Fresh & Onlys come full circle. The proud Bay Area locals took the stage this past Friday in a spot they’d played countless times, though the rush of ambition in the breeze has since brought their music well beyond city limits. Performing a set just over an hour in length, the new age folksters stood before a packed house of music heads in black-rimmed glasses, tossed coifs, and tattoos, and let it all go. It was a clique comprised of eternal followers as well as newly intrigued first-timers testing out the trend. The band has been whispered about by those “in the know” for quite some time, now capitalizing on such attention as they wrap a tour that has taken them around the world.
Known for being a montage of new and old, garage rock and big beat, The Fresh & Onlys began their set with “Waterfall,” a high tempo, Americana ode, traversing the relevance of our system of communication and beliefs. Like Fleet Foxes, the Northwest spirit resounded from the rafters as the band’s music and vocals took over the sphere around them. Mismatched, sloppy yet poignant, their music came across much more brilliant than their image suggested. The quartet of twentysomething white guys, most with long locks and beards, undoubtedly proved there is more to talent than meets the eye, and what is most important is to have a good time. Thus, they were a pastiche of ties and button ups, ripped jeans and tees; backwoods hipsters with boyish appeal, bizarre humor, and kick-ass playing skills.
Performing most of their catalog, it was readily apparent what all the hype is about. Every song featured an array of instruments, from maracas, bongos, and synth to cymbals and, at one point, a guest trumpet player; jam sessions segued from one tune to the next. Most songs were upbeat, though the rock group occasionally drifted into more trippy, nostalgic songs like “Secret Walls.” It was all rock, spun in inorganic directions, and many tracks almost made like the soundtrack of a Tarantino film. Bubbling, echoing and electric, the band took every chance they could to deviate from the storyline, riffing off one another while most of the crowd fell into a trance, nodding their head with the ebb and flow.
On a Friday night in San Fran, every venue’s got a band, and this crowd lingered on each word The Fresh & Onlys belted out, drinking whiskey and humming along. The best moment of the set was the band’s performance of “Summer of Love,” a seeming ode to days gone by in the history of their home fort. Part hippie, part art nouveau, part Beach Boys, it was easy to imagine the rockers sharing the limelight in the Monterey Pop scene of the 60s. Like their predecessors, the group flocks towards other natives of the area, their circles intertwining them with the likes of Ty Segall, Giant Skyflower Band, and Citay. Their knowledge of the craft was evidenced not only through passionate hymnals, but off the beaten path jiving. If any weakness, it was only in the periodically muffled quality of the vocals, though the crowd seemed to accept it as charming.
As their performance took on a number of moods, spiraling into oblivion then tapping into something more introverted, The Fresh & Onlys remained true to their quirky character. At one point, lead singer and guitarist, Tim Cohen, asked the venue to turn off its lights, while employing onlookers to turn on their cell phones.
“Shine it on us so we can get cancer,” he laughed. “I want to go out like a soldier.”
Clearly they love to play, and that is what they will do.