Had this writer been King Booker of the locals-oriented Homegrown Stage at Life Is Beautiful, the initial shortlist would have featured A Crowd of Small Adventures and Rusty Maples near or at the very top. Its members represent the coming of age of the Downtown music scene, and—in their bands’ current incarnations—continue to symbolize its maturation, energy and future.
A Crowd of Small Adventures—the de facto veteran act of the Homegrown Stage this weekend—kicked off its early evening performance with a new, anthemic song, gradually drawing newcomers to its paltry but native-filled audience no doubt through the clarion chords struck by Eric Rickey—who is working on ACOSA’s upcoming EP, titled Blood (for which they have begun a Kickstarter campaign) and subbing on guitar for a recuperating Sean Villaros—and vocalist Jackson Wilcox, who still hits notes and keys that his scene peers cannot.
Rounded out by their reliably on-point bandmates—in particular, drummer Tony Sermeno remains the assured steward of his group’s songs—ACOSA exclusively unveiled numbers likely to be included on Blood in typically dramatic fashion: arm swoops, vocal acrobatics, ascendant choruses, sudden starts and drum-roll bridges. If there was one glaring difference with this Adventure, it was Rickey’s ethereal, Edge-like approach to the guitar. But the largely alt-rock bend of Life is Beautiful accommodates that sound, and it provided ACOSA with another dynamic that highlights its songwriting strengths and the confidence with which they perform them.
“We’re from here!” Rusty Maples singer Blair Dewane declared toward the beginning of their Homegrown-closing set, and it was a reminder to resident onlookers of just how far not only his melodically blessed band has come—literally, as it has toured for most of 2013—but also he and his brother, Ian, both formerly of the now-defunct crew, The Skooners, the Downtown scene’s first big draw. Their second band, however, is a better act, and last night’s set—which last night included former cellist Courtney Waldron, who had left the band in 2013 to attend school in Texas—may rank highest among the many I’ve seen. It showcased the quartet’s tonal and stylistic diversity—one number simultaneously hinted at rockabilly, folk and The Beatles—as well as its well-honed musicianship, rooted and driven by bassist Mike Weller and drummer Max Plenke (also a contributor to the Weekly).
Its modest audience grew noticeably as the set progressed. One excited fellow from San Francisco asked the guy with the notepad why this band didn’t have an even bigger crowd watching. And during the final song, another Vegas musician wandered over and declared Rusty “a real band.” If the Dewane brothers can sustain its building motivation, they’ll be graduating to a bigger stage by the time LIB 2014 rolls around.