A Blame Sally show feels like a house concert — relaxed, good humored, and unpretentious. This veteran San Francisco folk rock band is comfortable in its accomplished musical skin and in its warm and easy contact with one another and the audience.
At the Napa Valley Opera House last Friday night, they delivered a crowd-pleasing 17-song set drawn from five albums recorded over the past nine years.
Each of the four “Sallies,” as their fans refer to them, is a multi-instrumentalist and a first-rate vocalist. Monica Pasqual plays piano and accordion, Jeri Jones is a guitarist and mandolinist, Renee Harcourt plays guitar and harmonica, and Pam Delgado is on drums and percussion. The band is celebrating itsr just-released CD, “Live at KVIE Studios: A Concert for Public Television.”
There is an important fifth musician. Rob Strom plays the six-string electric bass and a big stand-up acoustic bass, and provides a strong rhythm foundation for the band.
The performance drew heavily from the group’s 2011 album, “Speeding Ticket and a Valentine,” and the 2007 release, “Severland.” Harcourt, Delgado, and Pasqual swapped lead vocals wrapped in pitch-perfect and seamless two-, three-, and four-part harmonies, while Jones and Pasqual provided the bulk of the instrumental solos.
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Throughout the evening, Harcourt, the most “folkie” of the four, displayed her fingerpicking prowess on her Taylor acoustic guitar. Early in the set, she played an elegant flamenco-flavored introduction to “Pajaros Sin Alas,” and later accompanied herself on “Orange,” a lovely folk song written for her daughter. She also played a handful of harmonica solos. The most powerful was a rack-mounted break on “Fillmore Street,” which was positively Dylanesque.
If Harcourt is the folkie, Jones is the rocker. While she does her share of harmony vocals, her main job is to play the electric guitar, and she does it with joy, attitude and chops. Her principal instrument is a Bill Nash custom Telecaster, but she often swaps it for her Regal Resophonic (Dobro-style) guitar, on which she plays mostly slide. She also provides tasteful contributions on mandolin. Her solo highlights included breaks on “Moth to a Flame,” “Vera Chiesa,” “Our Religion,” the countrified “Trouble,” and the hardest rocker of the night, “Her Name is a Knife.”
Pasqual took the vocal lead on several songs, notably “Bird in Hand,” “Countdown,” “Constance No More,” and “Fillmore Street,” and instrumentally played either the accordion or the Opera House’s beautiful Steinway baby grand piano. Her keyboard work was tasteful and fluid, complementing the singing in solos and fills, though at times it was difficult to hear the piano. The audience would have benefited from a sound mix, which was otherwise excellent, that created more presence for the Steinway.
Delgado was an energy force on the right side of the stage. Standing behind a “cocktail” drum kit or seated for hand percussion, she is the rhythmic furnace of the band. Her musicianship and radiant presence simply demand your attention. And aside from being a great percussionist, she is a terrific vocalist, singing leads on “Big, Big Bed,” and “Trouble,” and principal harmonies on duets with Harcourt and Pasqual.
Like any good performing band, Blame Sally knows how to end a show. Closing out the main set with an ovation-inducing rocker, the band returned for its encore with the only cover of the night. Harcourt started it alone, the instantly recognizable guitar riff of Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again.” In close three-part harmony, Delgado, Jones, and Pasqual sang it spare with a taste of Jones’s mandolin and a pinch of percussion. The audience ate it up.
The band finished them off with “Hurricane,” a hard driving rocker that began with restraint, Jones playing raga teases alone on the resophonic guitar. Then Delgado began singing a capella and intentionally off mic. She was easily audible given her powerful alto voice. Seated on the cájon — it looks like a box but it’s a drum — she swayed to the right of the microphone, then to the left, continuing unamplified. Finally, she slammed the palm of her right hand against the cájon on the downbeat, and the full band burst in. It felt like an electric shock went through the hall. The percussionist, who at this point had the audience in the palms of her rhythmic hands, finished her lead on mic and the Sallies rocked out.
After the show, Delgado was asked about her choice to sing without amplification. “Why not?” she said. “It’s an opera house.”