Photos by Jon Ching

Cosmonauts were the headliners on Friday night, but I left the Brick & Mortar Music Hall most impressed by Oakland’s Mondo Drag, a five-piece band that delivered a heavy set of doom-laced psych jams. The group just released a new self-titled album in January, and its songwriting demonstrated a commendable restraint, allowing long instrumental passages to breathe and build. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy John Gamino’s vocals — I did, quite a bit — but the winding grooves led by his Hammond organ were entrancing. Seeing the band behind colorful visual projections lent a soundtrack quality to the instrumentals, and I bet Mondo Drag would do a great job playing a live score to accompany a film.

Are Cosmonauts a psych band, a shoegazer band, or a garage rock band? The Fullerton quartet defies easy classification on record and live, with songs that had melodic immediacy but could also build with hazy atmospherics. An overarching slackness to the whole thing was infectious, and the unpredictability was enough to keep me guessing before each new song began. Still, it all worked really well, and it made me want to revisit the group’s albums.

Al Lover isn’t as flashy as some of the artists I’ve seen perform live sampler-as-instrument sets over the years. You know the types I’m talking about, who violently lurch back and forward as they work their MPCs, dramatically cutting out sounds periodically to remind you, the audience, that yes, I’m playing an instrument up here.

Anyway, Al’s live set at the Brick & Mortar wasn’t anything like that. Instead, he offered richly-textured beats that mine the common turf shared by hip-hop and psych rock, with heavy low-end and head-nodding grooves. It’s a compelling sound, and Lover’s knack for graceful composition lent the whole thing a really artful touch.


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