SAN FRANCISCO — Lydia Loveless started creating her style of alt-country just at the turn of the decade, but has since grown a following of both old country-traditionalists and the new Americana generation.
Loveless headlined a show the Independent Saturday alongside supporting acts Angelica Garcia and M. Lockwood Porter, with each act building its sound around a country aesthetic, but with a unique take, style and songwriting.
Loveless’ sound was the most influenced by country, but was also the loudest and rock-centric. Yes, that’s a bit of a contradiction.
Her backing trio wasn’t just due to the style of country rock it played, but because it at times featured three guitarists, including Loveless, a bassist and drummer. For more indie rock and poppier songs, two of the guitarists would switch to a pedal steel guitar and a synth.
Even though most people came for Loveless herself, the other two guitarists stole the show. Some of the most beautiful moments were the pedal steel playing by Jay Gasper during the climax of “Bilbao” and the ambiance during the lows. The other guitarist, Todd May, could have easily come from a ’90s post-hardcore band, using feedback and scraping for noisy guitar solos.
Together, all these elements together created a texture in country music that is really difficult to nail in a live setting. One of the more enjoyable aspects of a country show is hearing the diverse instrumentation weave in-and-out as the dynamics change and this is also Lydia Loveless’ greatest strength. But this doesn’t mean that the two opening acts had nothing interesting to offer.
Max Porter, who sings and plays guitar under the alias M. Lockwood Porter, kicked off the night with a solo set. His style of singing is reminiscent of contemporary alt-country greats, such as Jason Molina and Ryan Adams, creating most of the his dynamics with his voice and use of storytelling. The lyricism combines blunt and relatable imagery with abstract concepts to provide a contrast that feels natural for country music.
Porter’s guitar playing is more reminiscent of older artists like Neil Young. During the show, he effortlessly fingerpicked a complex melody while simultaneously delivering a harmonica solo. But he was also able to abandon his virtuosity to just roll out a simple, yet effective in its catharsis, guitar solo.
Porter mostly played music off his new album, How to Dream Again. This album combined both personal and political themes, which he shared with the audience.
“Sorry to bum you guys out,” Porter said, apologizing for his plethora of sad songs, including a tune about the South Carolina church shooting and, of course, songs about Trump. He ended the night on two upbeat tracks, including “You Only Talk About Your Band,” an old, traditional-sounding bluesy rock ‘n’ roll song, nearly identical to Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.”
If Saturday’s fans weren’t familiar with Angelica Garcia before or couldn’t guess what type of music she performs given the context of the concert, it would be difficult to guess. She wore a GWAR shirt with bloody print on the sleeves and looked timid as she approached the microphone for the first time.
Without any introduction Garcia started quietly singing wordless a cappella melodies, looping and layering her voice. As the song, “You’ll Never Get Another,” grew louder, the audience quickly pivoted its attention. Eventually, Garcia filled the room with just her voice. And what a rich voice it was, coming from the diminutive Virginia singer-songwriter.
The rest of the band walked on stage and Garcia launched into the soft and atmospheric “Loretta Lynn,” using ambient synth and soft-tipped mallets instead of drumsticks. When the song eventually erupted, her country rock roots were finally revealed.
Garcia also got political, bantering about recent events in-between songs.
“This is a song about standing up to your fears, which we can all relate to,” she said about “The Devil Can Get In,” not-so-subtly alluding to Trump. Garcia also played a newer song dedicated to the horror that is the Dakota Access Pipeline. The chorus was a chant for change: “Not a big man’s money, nor his leaking pocketbook should build a pipeline for new blood.”
Like Porter, Garcia wanted to end on a happy note with “Orange Flower,” a playful song about a bad date.
Follow writer Michael Massaro at Twitter.com/michaelcmassaro.