When done correctly, music can evoke not only a mood but a time and place. On Wednesday night, Laurel Canyon producer–cum–recording artist Jonathan Wilson both owned and embodied his home turf, paying homage to area greats like Buffalo Springfield and The Doors with a tried-and-true mix of psych rock and vintage folk.
In equal measure, opening act (and Santa Barbara loc) Omar Velasco expertly represented the Central Coast with a tight, emotive, and beautifully orchestrated set of folk-tinged songs that pulled equally from Americana and his own Mexican roots. On record as in person, Velasco’s voice is a malleable force; he can reach deep, rumbling lows and serene, lilting highs with an unflappable ease. Accompanied by a maverick mix of drums, cello, and slide guitar, and aided by some recently gained tour legs, Velasco’s songs seemed to reach new heights, reverberating in both tone and subject matter. Similarly, his take on Laura Veirs’s “July Flame” nearly exceeded its original, a perfect mix of simple execution and sweet delivery.
As for Wilson, who also employs Velasco on guitar, keys, and backup vocals, the offerings were a bit more of a technical affair. On his most recent full-length, this year’s Gentle Spirit, Wilson is a soft-spoken, thoughtful wordsmith, capable of evoking the twangy, carefree feel of ’70s Laurel Canyon with ease. In concert, though, he balances these attributes with heavy doses of jammy psychedelia. In its best moments (like during “Gentle Spirit” and “Rolling Universe”), it was skillfully dazzling, but used to excess, it got a little heady — no doubt another by-product of Wilson’s homeland.