Alex Brettin wore his signature blue, yellow, and red cap. He grew out a willy beard that made him look ages older. He looked haggard, looking worn and yet focused from traveling and a sleepless night of scoring arrangements.
His 11-piece band at Lincoln Hall kicked off the set with “Skiptracing,” even featuring a guest vocalist and a horn section. Brettin may commandeer the project but Mild High Club is also a collective effort of his fellow psychonauts.
The horns on songs such as “Skiptracing” and “Head Out” added tension as well as texture and tonal color. The layers of keyboards, synthesizers, samplers, and acoustic and 12-string electric guitars all painted a hypnotic haze that one could easily get lost in — even without the use of illicit substances.
After the bright horns signaled the end of a song, Brettin said, “See, college was worth it,” who then paused for effect, “Dad, did you hear that?”
Mild High Club, Brettin has said, is both a concept and a place. It’s like a smokey lounge space in the mind. “Welcome to my twisted cabaret,” he sings on “Kokopelli,” “where music touches me.” Brettin writes music about appreciating music, the space it places you in, and how it can shift your perspective. And Skiptracing dives deep into the American sound, evoking the Native American trickster spirit Kokopelli of the American Southwest to sunny ’70s rock, like Steely Dan.
The crowd yelled and jeered during the first few notes of “Tesselation,” who were on their feet waiting for the last several bars of the song when chromatic, jazzy guitar runs up and down scales. The band performed “Chasing My Tail” live for the first time, which was another gem in their set.
Brettin played at the Empty Bottle last fall, soon after releasing the masterfully produced Skiptracing. While he lost a layer of intimacy at the bigger Lincoln Hall, their warm and polished sound system served his ensemble well. And it’s heartening to see a young, talented artist sell out a show that’s set on a Tuesday night at a 507-person venue.
The opener Paul Cherry not only fit the sound that night but also the spirit. He even owns the same 12-string Danelectro guitar as Brettin but, of course, he has a cherry sticker on his. He left wanting more, in a good way, because I’ve been itching to listen to his upcoming full-length record. Fellow locals Lucille Furs played paisley-patterned ’60s pop that didn’t stray far from that sound or time.
Brettin strikes me as a perfectionist who labors over the details. A guitar string broke after the first few songs, which delayed his set throughout the night as he swapped between guitars. Nonetheless, Mild High Club took the crowd to that twisted cabaret Brettin imagined.