Matthew Edwards and the Unfortunates: Secret Talent

Matthew Edwards and the Unfortunates
The Catacombs
December 8, 2012
San Francisco, CA

Matthew Edwards and the Unfortunates:  Secret Talent      
Sometimes, in San Francisco, I get to feel cooler and hipper than I am.  The city is full of secrets: hidden stairways, alleyway restaurants with unbelievable food, quirky Victorian homes with Shangri-la backyard gardens, there are unexpected vistas around every street corner.  And there are hidden, basement clubs where the cool bands play for 30-40 hipsters in the know.  Last night’s ME&TU show was one of those nights where I happily stumbled across a hidden den of some of the city’s secret musical talent.

Approaching the Catacombs on Capp Street in the Mission makes you wonder if you are in the right place.  It looks like a regular Mission home.  Last night, a piece of paper that said “Unfortunates” was thankfully taped to the door to let me know that I was not lost.  Inside, the Combs feels very much like a converted garage space and there is also an upstairs apartment where people live.  I was told that it was once a recording studio for gospel music in the '60s and '70s and only opens for performances on rare occasions, like last night.

I’ve seen Matthew Edwards and the Unfortunates perform almost half a dozen times in San Francisco but have not included them in a review because each performance has been completely different.  They seemed to be a work in progress, experimenting with new version of songs and playing with different musicians.  Previous shows tended to feature blues-flavored British folk music.  However, last night’s Unfortunates show was much more rocking and was probably their best performance yet.  The Unfortunates played a fantastic upbeat set of intelligent and literate songs.  In barroom banter, Matthew Edwards is frequently compared to Elvis Costello though this comparison was perhaps truer of his previous band, The Music Lovers.  The Music Lovers played some sharply written, fun songs that could easily fit into a set by the Attractions.  However, the rock version of the Unfortunates last night recalled one of my favorite 1970s post-punk bands, The Feelies and, to a lesser extent, the Velvet Underground – both bands that were ahead of their time. 

Opening for The Unfortunates was Sasha Bell, a Brooklyn transplant and former member of Essex Green.  Essex Green released some adventurous, atmospheric but well crafted pop albums from 1999 – 2006 in the Elliot Smith vein.  Sasha is a talented songwriter and played an enjoyable opening set of melodic, midtempo pop music.  She also did double-duty last night playing keyboards with the Unfortunates.  I also can’t neglect to mention another Unfortunates band-member Jefferson Marshall who is a supremely talented bass player.  His recruitment to the band was a sharp move by Edwards.  Jefferson helps take the band to another level.

This blog tends to limit reviews to more established acts at large venues but last night’s show by Matthew Edwards & The Unfortunates, as well as Sasha Bell, demonstrate that the local music scene in SF is populated by exceptionally talented artists and musicians.  Although a larger audience would deprive me of the fun of going to hidden places like the Catacombs, there’s no doubt that their secret talents deserve wider attention.  

Photos by MT.

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