Photo by Lauren Slusher
Spirit Family Reunion w/ The Felice Brothers
Oct. 3, 2014
The Chapel, San Francisco
It was fitting that Spirit Family Reunion played The Chapel this past weekend, because it’s worth the risk of sounding saccharine to say that something close to holy happened during their set.
This choice of word might be colored by the band’s name, or their clear influence by the gospel tradition. But, regardless of religious preference, what happened when the swollen-hearted folk band opened for The Felice Brothers on Friday was a moment of genuine human communion, which most non-psychopathic individuals will agree is of profound value.
And such communing seemed irresistible to the band’s members, who from each song’s start could barely keep from drifting to the center of the stage to huddle and holler together by the song’s end.
The group presents as entirely wholesome, from earnest-browed lead guitarist and vocalist Nick Panken to banjoist Maggie Carson, who seems to have pledged her very soul to the instrument.
It would be tempting to call the band cute if they didn’t have such fearsome technical skill, which works in service of their mission to get everyone – absolutely everyone – invested in what they’ve so passionately created for them. The obvious comparison is a spiritual revival or camp meeting, but that easy categorization seems unfair. For this band, something is very deeply at stake.
Spirit Family Reunion has one album, No Separation, whose title might comfortably double as the band’s motto. The modest capacity of the band’s oeuvre did not keep the set from feeling full, or even bursting.
It was a house much fuller than you’d expect to see for an opening act in a venue of The Chapel’s size, and nearly as soon as the band stepped on stage, you could feel everyone lay down their arms. Thus followed, generally in the crowd, swaying with the harmonica and stomping with the washboard, and a lot of closed-eye clapping. You wanted to run out onto Valencia Street, grab a hipster, and bring her inside for even just a brief moment of exposure.
Not a molecule of steam was lost as the band stormed through their set, which concluded with “I’ll Find a Way,” the same song that concludes their album, It did not take long for the song to become a house-wide group-sing, nor did it seem like there could possibly or justly be another option.