The Brothers Comatose…
These Brothers offer a lot. I hope I can begin to explain.
If these guys can capture their Santa Cruz American Music Festival stage performance on this fourth album they are currently recording in studio between tour stops, the Brothers have a chance to be invited to NYC for the 60th annual GRAMMY Awards. (“City Painted Gold” available for pre-order on their website here)
Lead vocalists and Brothers, Ben and Alex Morrison, on guitar and banjo, were birthed by their Mother, hot on the Petaluma 1980’s folk scene singing three-part harmony stuff. They knew other Brother (not in blood) bass-master Gio Benedetti since before high school, deciding to incorporate him into their sound…and an interesting sound it is! He brings wild percussive bass to the floor…he literally brings himself and his bass to lying down on stage floor. Gio is colorful, with influences of metal and jazz.
Curious to grow their sound, they placed flyers all around San Francisco. The lucky placement happened to be at the Conservatory of Music, which brought in classically trained violinist Philip Brezina (the only CA outsider, originally from PA) on fiddle. Turns out, a great find; if there was an electric fiddle, Brezina would be the Hendrix. Santa Cruz native Ryan Avellone (mandolin…a violin with frets) had played shows with them in the past and was a clear fit…seemingly shy on stage, he definitely is not so backstage showing off for the camera. And there you have it…an all-string ManBand, together for about 9 years now. Five men working together, equal-parted, standing side-by-side onstage; each with different personalities & talents, string instruments & vocal tones…I found myself extremely intrigued.
These guys surely connect when they play, its well-rehearsed and authentic, but there was a point in their performance where they all came together…and, it was special to feel it happen. During “Cedarwood Pines”, The Brothers Comatose absolutely came together as a band; something completely invisible connected, producing waves of positive energy that penetrated listening souls. It was amazing to witness. Individually they play together extremely well, but the connectedness where they became impenetrable was some thing almost impossible to describe. Nothing could pierce the cohesive bond; interconnectedness of a band of Brothers.
THEN, after they’d just come together, they invited the three sexy T Sisters onstage, which totally changed their entire dynamic but didn’t shake them one bit. There is a lot of confidence on that stage. I was impressed to say the least. This action explained so much; they welcome challenge and adversity. Thrive off it. The crowd was at their feet.
They are not just any band doing the ordinary thing. These guys roll with it and have fun while doing it. They have sound, a story, and camaraderie. ON top of it all, they are really nice…oh, and handsome…and fun. The ultimate catch, all 5 of them, rolled into a tangle of well-arranged strings with a main priority: Have a really good time on stage playing live and ensure the crowd is enjoying themselves, whether it means adjusting fast or slow, these guys are here for their fans and to earn new ones.
Their music has a lot to offer as well. Strings with personality: providing feelings array, playing on your emotion, allowing room for life reflection.
They FEEL good. Whoever eats pie for breakfast and sings about it clearly understands what it means to feel good.
“Tommy” is about a homeless man who wandered into their home looking to party – they welcomed him, then sang a song about him. Clearly they are open to circumstance, which only makes them more interesting. I’m not quite sure what inspired Avellone to write “Knoxville Foxhole”; its open to interpretation.
They made it known that this Santa Cruz performance put them in the festival spirit – and they have plenty more to look forward to this summer! They talk about the authenticity a festival provides: the crowd feeds off of their energy, the energy exchange creating different experiences.
They get on stage, drop their guard, play their hearts and sing their soul. They are proof, when 5 men connect, great things happen. They’re human and still piss each other off, and talk about it on stage…meanwhile, the crowd yells “Keep PLAYING!” Just as quickly, all is forgiven.
String jam induced, crazy 2-step swing with dangerous high elbows: “Don’t Make Me Get Up and Go Home” was a trial song for us to preview what they’ll be working on in the studio. They make fun, the inevitable gloom we experience Sunday evenings dreading the looming workweek…this song was written by their tour manager “extraordinaire” Joe Pacini, as lead singer Ben Morrison puts it, he’s a “lyrical wizard…a Hiphopopotamus, his lyrics are bottomless”. They all contribute and play their part.
As they introduce their one-last-song, the crowd shouts back “Noooooooo” like a bunch of two year olds. Amused by both band and crowd for almost 2 hours, this last part was no exception. They introduce the last song about being challenged with a great intellectual task through a program, American Music Abroad run by the State Department. The song definitely needs an introduction…they preface the requirements for a song they must create for the contest of which over 400 bands applied. Their proposition; choose to sing one of the following songs in its respective language: Urdu. “dil dil Pakistan” – an amazing 4 minute Persian 80’s video, if you find the time. Mandarin (name of Chinese Opera song forgotten for simple fact none of the band members understand Mandarin). OR……..Spanish. “La Bamba”. Gio came up with this spot-on Mariachi with a bit of Mexican folk version. New instant Latino fans perked up.
They played the longest set of the festival, a performance they themselves would want to receive. The crowd was showing their love and The Brothers Comatose were reciprocating. Their performance did all the talking, but nonetheless, I wanted to meet these guys.
I knew they would be easy to catch backstage after their performance, because it’s impossible to go anywhere fast with a group of 5.
All five took it upon themselves to sit for a half hour of ill-prepared questions. They are clever, artistic, creative, and funny; humble, in that they joke about playing at the smallest of venues, but these guys…they’ve played some super great venues including, Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace outside of Joshua Tree, to name 1 of many.
The Morrison Brothers, originally from Petaluma, CA, moved to Haight Street in San Francisco to pick-up on the creative ‘Hippie Bohemian vibe’ originations, responsible for many of the SF greats before the fall of the mission and its infiltration. In any regard, it was the Brothers that brought together this band.
The songs for their upcoming album, as Avellone states, “Have no unifying thread. We all just wrote a bunch of songs.”
This is the first album that they are working with a producer, John Vanderslice, out of San Francisco whose theory is “democracy is cool but boring”, with a philosophy of keeping an album dirty/original without digitalizing everything.
In speaking with The Brothers Comatose, it is evident they are excited to work on the album in-studio, foreseeing challenges creating a groovy album with accuracy within the confines of a studio, appreciating the festival feel and how it transforms their music. Perfection & accuracy is not what they strive for when they play live, it’s more about creating a vibe to have fun.
When asked to choose the perfect venue to create an album, Ben makes mention of The Devil Makes Three Live album “A Little Bit Faster and a Little Bit Worse”.
“It’s so true, you get excited and you start playing shit faster than you might normally play it and it’s not quite as good as the recording, but the crowd is there to get into whatever energy you put out, and we respond to that”.
These guys are professional ‘Live’ performers who have a great pulse on the local music scene. They will be playing at the Americana Music Fest in Nashville in September, which as Ben explains, “is the new SXSW of Americana”.
Their words, not mine, “Folk Yeah!”
The Brothers Comatose Setlist:
“Modern Day Sinners”
“To Be Young”
“Pie For Breakfast”
“City Painted Gold” (special guest T Sisters)
“Morning Time” (T Sister, Erika Tietjen )
“Don’t Make Me Get Up and Go Home”
“The Van Song”
“Trippin’ on Down”
“West Was Won”
“Tops of The Trees”
The Brothers Comatose Concert Review by Elizabeth Lauer – Santa Cruz American Music Festival 2017 at Aptos Village Park in Aptos, California
The Brothers Comatose photo credit Elizabeth Lauer