This past Saturday, I caught a performance of one of my favorite up-and-coming folk bands, Run River North. I’ve been a big fan of the group since their Monsters Calling Home days (before they renamed themselves last year). I’ve seen this talented group of musicians twice in the past, once at Kollaboration in UC Berkeley and another time at the Grammy Museum in LA. The band recently released their self-titled debut album and had been touring the country playing tons of shows.
The sold-out concert took place at the Chapel in the ever-so-popular and hip Mission District of San Francisco. Located on one of the most lively streets in the neighborhood and surrounded by bars and restaurants, the Chapel was one of the coolest mid-sized venues I’ve seen. The one-time mortuary was converted into a beautiful concert hall in 2012 and contains a sanctuary-like hall, an upper terrace, and a couple of bars. Run River North, along with opening bands Totoake and Matrimony, did an amazing job playing a variety of songs to a capacity crowd.
Totoake and Matrimony
My friends and I wondered into the venue a bit after starting time and caught the tail end of an electrifying blues performance by Santa Cruz-based Totoake. Wow, frontman Elisha’s guitars were a-wailin’ and everyone in the band looked like they were having the time of their lives! I loved the extended soloing and jamming at the very end, and the crowd seemed hyped up after the performance. After a brief break, a stop at the bar, and a quick chat with Alex the frontman of Run River North, who was at the lobby meeting with fans, we decided to check out the upper terrace to catch Matrimony’s set.
What a great move. Walking past the nice lounge area where people could sit and enjoy drinks while watching the concert being televised live, we stepped out to the railings and found a perfect view of Matrimony without having to squeeze ourselves into the huge crowd below. The Irish natives played a high-energy and fun set. I’ve never seen a lead guitarist take an epic rock-out stance with a mandolin. I’ve also never seen a drummer so worked up – he practically stood half the time and at one point during a particularly intense drum fill managed to fling the ride (the ride!) into the air. The husband-wife vocalist pair kept the crowd dancing to folksy tunes, and my favorite part of the performance was the call-and-response between the four harmonizing male members of the band and the female vocalist, set to a beautiful keyboard melody. After some great opening performances, we were more than ready to see the main set.
Run River North
As soon as I saw lead singer Alex take the stage in his signature bare feet and followed by the rest of the band, I knew I would not be disappointed. They immediately launched into their debut’s opening track “Monsters Calling Home” and played one flawless song after another. Harmonizing violins, intricate drumming, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboard melodies, plus the occasional tambourine all melded into a perfect backdrop for Alex’s crooning voice. The set never had a dull moment as the band played a mix of folk, pop, and alternative songs.
Run River North had been touring for the past year, and it was pretty clear they’ve improved their showmanship by leaps and bounds. Everyone looked comfortable on stage and there were plenty of fun pair-jamming moments. The band played their entire repertoire, building up to the set’s climax, my personal favorite “Foxbeard.” This performance was unlike anything I’ve seen of the group. About halfway through, the music started to build in intensity, exploding into an extended jam session with every member synced as one. It was absolutely beautiful and I especially loved when Alex and violinist Jennifer played off each other’s energy as the violin absolutely sang.
After a fifty-minute set that included standouts “Beetle” and “Banner,” the band returned to the stage for an encore performance. What other song to play than “Fight to Keep,” the track that brought them national attention in the most unlikely way? And yes, they started it off with that cool acappella intro. Compared to the last two times I saw the band perform, this was my favorite by far. Their Kollaboration performance was part of a competition so the set was much shorter than I’d hoped for. The Grammy Museum was an intimate performance with awesome commentary in between songs. But this performance felt the most compelling – the band played flawlessly and without reserve and they finally looked like they were home. I’m thankful I was able to witness and enjoy every single moment of it.
The Wall Street Journal recently wrote a great piece on the band. Check out a video of an awesome demo performance below: