On Nov. 7, the election anxieties of a few Santa Barbarans sank under homespun folk as Mike Sherk and other DIY acts performed an intimate concert at FUNZONE. The venue, located in the East Beach Batting Cages on Milpas Street, offered a homely setting for independent music with an air of approachable weirdness.
As a first-timer, I was struck by the incongruity of the performance space. Inside what looked like a converted shed was a charmingly scrappy room decorated with hand-drawn showbills and some baseball equipment. Within was an active batting park, scoreboard and snack shack.
Outside the venue, Tucson folk duo Logan and Lucille tossed bean bags in a casual game of cornhole, while opener Katie Murray watched over her young daughter and chatted with the night’s hosts, two guys who introduced themselves as Woody and Josh. They were of my favorite breed of music nerd: those who would love to hear you discuss new wave and post-punk, but wouldn’t care if you couldn’t.
Sherk, a Portland-based veteran of the West Coast DIY scene best-known for his eclectic folk act Mandarin Dynasty, arrived with a backing band under his new solo moniker. The headliners sipped from cans of seltzer water on picnic tables in the alcohol-free space, absorbed in a critical analysis of soap opera shows as they waited for the night to begin.
The group made quick friends with Logan and Lucille, known for harmonies that pierce through searing acoustic guitar work, and Murray, a regular at FUNZONE studying early childhood education at Santa Barbara Community College.
Murray kicked off Monday night with homemade folk that warmed the small room into head-nodding calm. As I watched her sing her daughter to sleep at the close of her performance, it was hard not to forget, for a moment, the political stress that had kept me up the nights before.
Logan and Lucille followed with their brand of desert folk pop. Their minimalist instrumentation provided an energetic foundation for two complementary voices: Lucille crooned about exhausting tours and lost loves, while Logan used his pop punk roots to express the pressure of others’ expectations in “Giants.” Like Murray, the duo stretched past their vocal abilities, occasionally sacrificing intonation for bare delivery. Far from subtracting from the experience, this added a compelling authenticity to their tone enhancing their homegrown approaches to folk music.
After Lucille thrashed her pink hair at the end of their final song, a new one that Sherk’s percussionist named “Interstellar Mandolin Wind” or, alternatively, “Comet 112365,” we took a break for corn-holing and conversation. The venue proved equally appropriate for music and hanging out.
This relaxed tone held up the music of Sherk and his band, as they performed soft reflections on life and love. Their set featured the same peculiarities as Mandarin Dynasty’s Feedback Time from 2015: eclectic arrangements and personal, tragicomic lyricism. Flute hooks, a synthesizer, and soft percussion backed the most polished of Sherk’s songs.
The often ironic but authentically strained voice of the frontman stood out in lines like “Broken heart trombone / ushers me home / in a dark jean jacket,” and “You present a gentle presence in my Camry.” Here, as with likely influencer Stephen Malkmus, playful wordplay forms the surface of wistful thought.
Love Amour, a new local punk act, could not make it, so the night ended early. Their contribution would have been interesting, adding distortion to the cleaner acts, but maybe their absence was for the best. I feel lucky to say that at least one day in November gave me feelings of calm.
No matter their political affiliations, this week has given people a lot to think about. Those seeking a night of musical catharsis will find a home in FUNZONE, whose intimate atmosphere is set to host a variety of independent acts in the next month, including an Ethnic Studies Now benefit show on Nov. 18. Whether you’re looking to relax or to rage, do not overlook the East Beach Batting Cages.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the venue where this concert took place as “the Funzone.” The correct name and spelling is FUNZONE.