The Donkeys at The Glass House

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The Glass House is in the brick-and-cobble arts colony in downtown Pomona, California, where a defunct Washington Mutual now serves as a community art center. It’s a venue that comes complete with its own record store (well-stocked too, not your average hole-in-the-wall), and features both a larger stage and the smaller Blue Room for more intimate sets; the latter is a very bare-bones stage where you can get about as close to performers as common courtesy allows, and it was here that I saw psychedelic easy-folk quartet The Donkeys on the second show of their tour, along with The Blank Tapes and Extra Classic. And you bet your ass I got as close as common courtesy allowed.

Since I can’t resist using the phrase “donkey show” at least once in this review, let me get it out of my system: The Donkeys live show is at least… two times as good as any donkey show, and at least four times as clean.

Now then, the first thing that stuck out about The Donkeys’ set — these guys have been at it for a long time, 10 years in fact, and the age shows in the best way possible. It was clear they knew their songs in and out, and knew which elements should recede and which should pop, so if you’re still on the fence about budgeting in a Donkeys concert, rest assured: you’ll be in professional hands. The sound was spot-on, losing out in no way to the album renditions, but adding an intensity even to the slower tracks. Their swagger was natural rather than rehearsed, and both Anthony Lukens and Timothy DeNardo had their nightbird croons tuned to perfection. They exuded this confidence that the party will come, even if the room were empty, even if they were singing through holes in the wall out into the night streets.

The second thing you notice — The Donkeys can do it all, if you couldn’t tell from their discography. The laidback cruise of ‘Sunny Daze’ was milk-smooth, and the backup vocals stood out sharply for pleasant harmonization. Ditto for the criminally short ‘Blues in The Afternoon’, which has an evening fogginess to the group-effort vocals that can’t be easy to pull off live. On the flipside, they can bash it out beer-hall style, with Anthony’s keyboard acrobatics flying wall to wall and up and down the scales, eliciting a palpable honky-tonk fervor from the crowd. It’s definitely more a house-party sort of feel than the “sleepy ocean tunes” image you might have of them, with its fair share of danceables like ‘I Like the Way You Walk’, which has an added thump to the enunciation and percussion to give it a feeling more jaunty than country.

Basically, all the hits and giggles from their most recent album, Ride the Black Wave, were present in full force, led of course by the phenomenally chill lead single ‘Scissor Me Cigs’. The track had exceptional tempo control from drummer Sam Sprague, whose unusually forceful beats puts Donkeys on a level beyond groups who do a similar sort of folksy chill-wave.

My only real complaints? No ‘Lower the Heavens’ from their self-titled debut, and NO SITAR FROM JESSIE. I understand the technical and logistic difficulties of getting that beast to sound out in a live show, but I was really looking forward to some ‘East/West Coast Raga’ and ‘Imperial Beach’. Oh, also, they had to stop by 11:00, which might’ve ended up working in their favor — they played hard as hell, as though all the lights on earth would wink out once the clock struck.

The Donkeys’ concern is strictly the creation of that specific psych-country partying they’ve made a name with — there’s no staring at the floor, racing through songs, no “just getting done with it.” When they play, they’re in your face, getting you to clap for once in your goddamn life, and shaking the house to the floor with the time they’re given.

Aside from a great headliner, the opening sets included solid performances from both The Blank Tapes and Extra Classic. The former is a surf-aesthetics and guitar heroics sort of group, a solid power trio with lively bass riffs holding the line, while vocalist/guitarist Matt Adams ventures out to choppy seas with his reverbed freakouts.

Extra Classic, on the other hand, is a collision of trip-hop and reggae, as beautiful a sound as it is unlikely. Their groove cannot be denied or defied, and vocalist Adrianne Verhoeven is a joy to watch, whether she’s belting it out or rocking the bongos, melodica or tambourine. All in all, a lovely night at an intimate venue, in a pretty, red-brick part of town.

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