Zen Mustache – December 1st – Jamestown Mercantile

 Photo by Peter Gibbons

The Scene: For me, the mention of a “cover band” conjures up images of old dudes with long hair, bandannas and black leather vests unsuccessfully attempting to bring back the 80s. (Just for the record—the ‘80s are not coming back, sorry.) That said, one night of solid tunes at the strangely beautiful and exceptionally unique venue known as the  Jamestown Mercantile by Boulder-based band, Zen Mustache, changed my views on cover bands forever.

This show was a lampshade-shaking good time. If you’ve never been to a show at The Merc in Boulder’s tiny neighboring town of Jamestown, it’s definitely worth the visit if only to soak in the total weirdness of it all. It’s a long and windy road to get to there and after spending 30 minutes of my life trying to drive off the side of a mountain, Jamestown appeared through the darkness and the Merc was a welcomed sight.

Walking into the Jamestown Mercantile is always a trip. The place has to be a least a hundred years old and I’m sure has been home to an interesting variety of people, businesses and things. The Merc’s tiny stage sits in front of a huge window that watches over Main Street, and has this magical Mary Poppins-bag-quality where it holds more musicians and gear than should physically be possible. The layout of the venue is open and friendly and I’m pretty sure was a wonderful house for some kid to grow up in once-upon-a-time. Several tables with an assortment of random chairs dot the hardwood floor in front of the stage. A handful of deliciously tacky lampshades adorned with fringe and some kind of a paisley pattern straight out of the ‘70s provide the dim lighting for the room. The bar is more like a nook, and ordering a Left Hand Sawtooth was less like ordering up a beer at an establishment and more like being offered a cold brew at a friend-of-a-friend’s house. A collection of weird things like fish head art and strange old photos decorate the walls of the joint and the open kitchen looks, and smells, just like my kitchen after I go through the trouble of actually cooking a homemade meal. You’ve gotta see this place for yourself.

Zen Mustache: If I were to throw this band into one musical category, I’d probably file them under Funk because their bassist definitely brings the funk; especially during “peanuts time” (better known to most of us as guitar string change time). But after getting drawn into a deeply soulful version of The Allman Brother’s “Soul Shine,” I would change my mind and move them over to Rock. And then I’d remember how crazy the crowd went, running into lampshades and moving the furniture in the room around for more dance space when the band played their versions of Weezer’s “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “All These Things I’ve Done” by The Killers. Then I’d listen to the ZM original, “Hey Jane” featuring some pretty damn good harmonies and songwriting, and an appearance by one of my favorite instruments, the mandolin, and I’d throw my hands up in the air and give up on trying to categorize these guys. This group has the chameleon-like ability that’s necessary to perform covers and seamlessly transcend genres while still maintaining their own identity and musical integrity.

When the six guys that make up Zen Mustache stepped on stage on Saturday night, the crowd was still buzzing with conversation; some folks were still eating in dinner and most everyone was paying attention to anything other than what was happening on stage. That all changed when the band launched into a super funky version of “Whoomp (There it Is).” Yes, you heard me correctly. A funky, soulful, rocking cover band with a hint of Bluegrass opened their set with a song that was rated #97 on VH1’s One-Hit Wonders list…and it was pretty awesome. It shut the crowd right up, and the band had everyone’s undivided attention for the rest of the evening.

As the band started to play I couldn’t help but think that lead vocalist, Kyle Mason, was hands down the most talented guy in the up there. His stage presence, his voice, and his ability to tackle every cover song and make it his own, would all be enough for me to get on board with him as a solo act, but as the night went on, I realized that while all six of the musicians in the band could easily go at it alone, they definitely create something special as Zen Mustache. Geoff Madding seemed possessed all night by the greatest guitar players of all time. With his eyes closes, he destroyed some of his guitar riffs so hard that I couldn’t catch up to the beat. For a good portion of the night, Madding turned me into that awkward girl on the dance floor stomping her foot on the offbeats. Guitarist Ted Martens won me over when he picked up a mandolin. Drummer Justin Mirarack did his best to get me back on the beat, Johnny Drozdek shined during “Feelin’ Alright” on the keyboards, and bassist Phil Moss brought some fun funk to “Up on Cripple Creek,” one of my favorite songs of all time.

At one point in the night the owner swooped in a moved all of the furniture off of the dance floor and bodies quickly filled in the empty space. It wasn’t long before a big circle was formed and everyone took turns showing off their moves in the center. It was as if everyone was under a spell and physically unable to leave the dance floor. Every time I tried to leave, a song like Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” or the Doobie Brother’s “Black Water” would come on.

I felt at home on Saturday night. I had one of those great nights where anything goes. Nobody cared that I kept losing the beat or occasionally shouted out the wrong lyrics. The band handed out mustache stickers that mostly ended up on people’s faces. The town was welcoming and friendly, and the six guys that make up Zen Mustache put on a killer show to reward everyone for it.

Energy: A +
Musicianship: B+
Sound: A-
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: B

Overall: A-