Mandrake / Smile Brigade / The Lonelyhearts
Hemlock Tavern
May 7, 2005

Review by Meg Sharkey

The Hemlock was a little quiet at the start of the show -- maybe everyone was recovering from their Kentucky Derby mint juleps -- and Mandrake played a musically accomplished set of prog-influenced rootsy Americana to a attentive but seated crowd. Seeing a stand-up acoustic bass at a small club is always a treat, and Mandrake's bassist is talented and fun to watch. Their most impassioned number was a cover of the bluegrass standard "In The Pines", which the lead singer really threw himself into and made for a memorable set closer. I'll be looking forward to catching another short set from these guys at the upcoming PiF Nick Drake tribute at Cafe Du Nord on June 19th.

Smile Brigade from Seattle was next, a traditional drums/bass/guitar pop trio. Although they seemed a little flat or tired from the long drive down, they had some catchy 3 minute songs and I liked the harmonies provided by the drummer, who also did the rockstar point-a-drumstick-to-the-sky-while-playing move, also favored by the drummer of the New Pornographers.Sadly for the out-of-towners, most of the crowd decided to take advantage of the Hemlock's happenin' bar scene during their set.

The crowd came streaming back in to catch The Lonelyhearts. Although initially skeptical of the two-guys-on-synths setup, the Lonelyhearts played a captivating set of well-written, often politically astute songs. They have great vocals (something that I think too many indie rock bands give short shrift), good rapport with the audience, and storytelling reminiscent of Mountain Goats, Pedro the Lion, or the Moore Bros.