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Friday, November 19

The Stone Foxes – 9/17/2010 – The Top Hat – Missoula, MT

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Words: Samuel Martin

Photos: Carla Kilgore
Those who opted to show up at the quaint yet popular bar and club, The Top Hat on Friday, September 17, were treated to two diverse contrasting yet amazing performances. The Stone Foxes, from San Francisco have been touring extensively off of their latest release Bears and Bulls and have been gaining notoriety for it's rare dialed down bluesy sound as well as it's heavy rock connotations. The question of the evening was how this translated onto the live stage, it didn't take long to be answered.

Opening for the San Francisco Quartet was a Folk-Blugrass duo from Northern California called Gwyneth + Monko. A simple yet entertaining act, consisting of Monko on electric and acoustic guitar, and mandolin and Gwyneth on acoustic guitar they slowly meandered their way through a lengthy and historic set-list of original tunes and old folk songs. The first thing one would notice about this duo is the piercing vocals of Gwyneth, very reminiscent of Allison Krause and very much so in the same tradition, with country overtones and bluegrassy flavor. Her voice and lyrical ability was matched by the dueling acoustic guitars of the pair, as well as the manic mandolin playing of Monko and the raw electric country sound that came out on some songs towards the end of their set. They impressed a small audience with their take on the traditional song, Jack-A-Row, not spelled as Dylan or sung in the same tradition but definitely a ear pleaser. Also their own material, such as The Cuckoo which will be coming out on their next album was a driving bit of musical harmony where their instruments melded as one and Gwtneth's voiced pierced the dance floor, and bar for all to hear. An act worth checking out.
 So as mentioned earlier The Stone Foxes stage presence was hot this particular night, and by hot, one could say that even though they were playing to just a few dozen fans, and even less dancing intensely to their set on the dance floor the blues was what came through, and flavored the evening. Their unique style of blues-rock translated into the live setting is truly why this band has talent. Made up of the two Koehler brothers, Shannon on drums and Spence on guitar, Avi Vincour and Aaron Mort traded positions on bass and lead guitar a number of times, as well as the entire band taking their turns singing, with vocal harmonies always a highlight. Playing songs from their first, self titled album, they proved to have a more rock and roll than blues sound. Still very raw and with the vocals of Mort piercing through the air in his high ripping falsetto it was ear-catching rock at that. “Little Red Rooster” was the one amazingly covered song of the fierce and fast paced first set. Another well performed song was “Reno's Casinos”, off of Bears and Bulls, a comical tune about how the casino's of Northern Nevada are killing, the singer.

The seamless-ness in which the foursome shared duties on stage was impressive and the energy put into the show was not only fun to watch but really moving at times. Vincour's vocals almost matched that of Mort's and Spence Koehler who sang lead the least was a mirror image vocally as his drum playing brother. Shannon, sitting behind his drum kit kept the mood light as he told jokes about himself trying to go out clubbing and meeting girls with little to no luck and the back and forth between the front end was seamless, a very refined and clean act.

The second set which was smoking in many ways compared to the first was rooted deeper in the old fashion San Francisco blues rock that draws out lengthy guitar riffs, being powered over by the slide work of Spence, flavored with the harp playing of Shannon. Spence was on his A-game this evening and his sound added that missing flavor that most novice blues bands lack. Not that these four are novices' by any means, but their future is way brighter than their past if they keep up touring and performing as they did on Friday.
There were many highlights of the second set, with the band joking and talking amongst each other, Aaron Mort, emailing the band that he quit, walking off stage, and then texting back, “Just Kidding” as he appeared from the darkness of backstage to rip into another song. “I Killed Robert Johnson”, a funny yet still raw bluesy tune was incredibly well received, with the two dozen or so dancing fans all singing along to the low and saddened tune that has quick changes and moving lyrics.

When it was almost time for the Bar to close The Foxes treated those in attendance to a pitch perfect and fun version of “The Weight” by The Band, leaving nothing left on the table, for the final verse and after jamming out the mid-section to near mad delirium, they invited a handful of fans on stage, set up a microphone, and with Gwyneth from the opening act and a few randoms at the helm they delved into the closing pieces to a guaranteed classic. It was clearly a fun and special way for many to end the evening, including the band.

Creating their set-list each night as they come out on stage, The Stone Foxes try to not replicate any one show but to simply entertain those who show up.

The Stone Foxes are come across as born performers, each with mad skills at harnessing the rare and raw sound of the blues, without leaving rock and roll behind. As BB King once said, “ In order to play the blues you have to be black twice, Stevie Ray Vaughn missed on both counts, and I didn't notice.” Not to compare The Stone Foxes to the late great S.R.V., but I don't think BB King would notice here either. With a heavy touring schedule and a pretty fine album to promote one can only hope they make their way up North again to Missoula some time soon.