Article and Photos by: Jason Robey
Friday night at the Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix was alive with the sounds of popular local music. Even before the doors to the venue opened, the bar and patio were packed and lively, a hint at the party that would be happening inside shortly.
Sara Robinson started the night out, as people were still making their way into the showroom, with her new backing band, which she referred to on-stage as simply, The Sara Robinson band. She did an excellent job at getting the crowd warmed up, delivering her beautifully smoky voice to the growing audience. Robinson’s set started off with “Trigger,” a slower-tempo blues tune from her 2013 album, “Sara Robinson & the Midnight Special,” reminiscent of early Led Zeppelin. Her new guitarist, YOD, formerly of the band Mergence, perfectly complimented her vocal style with his classic blues slide playing.
The band picked up the pace for a new song, listed on the stage setlist as “Banana,” which will presumably be on the album Robinson will begin recording at the beginning of 2017. They followed it with one of her most popular songs, the single “Down By the Water.” As the room was beginning to fill in, Robinson invited the shy crowd to come in closer to the stage, allowing an exchange of energy between herself and the audience that could be felt in every word she belted out and every line the house sang along.
After a short break, the stage was set for Taylor Upsahl, whose smooth voice and acoustic pop song writing was a stark contrast to the raucous blues set that preceded, though it still fit the bill and pleased the crowd. Upsahl and her band opened their set with the single, “Golden Rims,” from her 2015 sophomore album, Viscerotonic. which made up most of tonight’s setlist.
Upsahl, who made her way on to the scene with her first album in 2013, at the age of only 14, showed the audience her incredible stage presence and impeccable voice for nearly 40 minutes. Highlights of her set included the haunting “Follow Me” and the dreamy “Sunflower,” both of which have music videos online. She threw a curveball in the set with an acoustic rendition of Beyonce’s “Hold Up,” featuring back and forth vocal lines with background vocalist, Rachael Rinsema. Taylor announced that she will have a a new album out in January, before trading her guitar for a keyboard for their closing song, “Portrait Patterns.”
Following another short break, the room went completely dark, except two bright lights at the back of stage, shining into the crowd, creating a silhouette of the drum set and keyboard. As CooBee Coo walked on-stage, a deep voice bellowed a quirky introduction over the P.A. and the band launched into “Please Stop Running,” from their ambitious 2014 release, Gorilla, a full-length album with an accompanying film. By the time the band began, the room had completely sold out.
CooBee Coo is officially a duo, consisting of keyboardist Jesse Morrison and KC Barras on vocals, guitar and occasionally drums, which he plays with foot pedals. Tonight, they filled out the stage with special guests, including guitarist Cori Rios of The Hourglass Cats, bassist Jake Johnston and drummer Josh Montag of Scattered Melodies, saxophonist Keith Kelly and Trombonist Charles Hopkins.
CooBee Coo’s unique blend of funk and folk became the soundtrack to a lively 90 minute party, as they rocked through danceable fan favorites like “Never Gonna Leave Your Side,” “Eyes That Kill” and “Gumbo.” The closest thing there was to a break in the action was when a water bottle spilled on Barras’ guitar amp, though Montag and Johnston quickly took the chance for a drum and bass jam to fill in the time.
CooBee Coo kept the evening light and fun, as they pulled songs from their four full-length albums and the EP being released that day. Every couple songs, the lights would go down for more of the quirky, deep-voiced narration that started the set, telling the story of the band. CooBee Coo proved to have quite a following in the valley of the sun, packing this popular venue, with people who knew the songs well enough to often sing along.
After a laid-back rendition of “Snake In the Gravel,” from the band’s debut album, Melodies From the Farm, they left the stage for a few minutes, leaving time to set up Barras’ drum set for the first part of the encore. They returned as the original duo for a medley of two more songs from their debut, “Mr. Morning” and “The Things Above.” They finished the night off by bringing their guests back to the stage for the title track from their most recent full-length album, Liven Up.
CooBee Coo’s albums are available on iTunes, Bandcamp and Amazon.