San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls headlined the city’s Brick & Mortar Music Hall on July 18, less than a week after opening the Phono del Sol: Music and Food Festival. It was a welcome return, as the last time they had played there was in March for their record release party. It’s all one big party when Pat Thomas (guitar), Alex Fleshman (drums), Ryan Wong (guitar) and Pat McDonald (bass) take the stage – it’s impossible not to dance to their warm and mellow but zippy tunes.
It’s difficult to distinguish yourself from other garage/psych bands out in San Francisco, but Cool Ghouls have risen to the task in the past year. Tim Cohen of the Fresh and Onlys wrote in their press release not to put them in as a retro act, but there is no mistaking that ’60s British rock and roll vibe rolled in with smoky psychedelic soul of the era and touches of twang. They have managed to stand out by combining new and old, creating their own different sound.
Joining their four-piece for the show was a three-member horn section who helped complete the whole live experience. This is a band that is meant to play on stage, as their recorded material (self- titled debut) already zings with the organic and spontaneous feel of live energy. The Brick & Mortar audience was receptive – especially during highlights like album opener “Ballin’” where they sang along to the “YEAHS!” Another favorite, “Natural Life,” got the crowd swaying and bopping wildly from hip to hip.
Fleshman offered up tight percussion with the rest of the happy crew, whose differing styles of guitar/bass created a mixed layer of surprises that wrapped together to bring that lo-fi, garage, folk and all that jazz. Each offered up their own style of vocals to create vibin’ harmonies as well – from Thomas comes the Southern-ish twang; Wong supplies more of the melodic tendencies and McDonald’s vocals have more of the cool, psych vibe. Not surprisingly, the band was very friendly towards the audience – Wong had some light-hearted conversation with us and joked around with the horn section.
Being quite new at a year-and-a-half old, the band mostly played material from the debut and their EP Alright Cassette, which made for a little over an hour set. “Witch’s Game,” and “Queen Sophie” proved that their sound was faithful to the recording, but it was seeing them play it live onstage that sealed the fact this group have some sort of blazing chemistry.
One issue with garage music is that songs often sound the same but this performance proved that it was not the case with this band. The crowd’s reaction to the yodeling during “Supernatural Forces” was definitely favorable. Maybe that’s the secret to an ace show. Yodeling must be the new cowbell. The band retained that mellow, laid-back attitude throughout the night, all the while giving it all they had. The sweat on the brows and t-shirts of the audience clearly reflected that all the way to the end. The set ended with a simple goodbye and thank you from Thomas and Wong, all too soon it seemed. It was a grand night in the Mission district of San Francisco as it should be whenever and wherever the Cool Ghouls play.
Cool Ghouls only continue to gain momentum, as this writer saw at Brick & Mortar. While they do exemplify all the terrific qualities of classic rock and roll, they bring something new and fresh to the table which makes this free-spirited band memorable and stand out.