String band the Brothers Comatose play Woodstock rockers for Halloween
San Francisco string band the Brothers Comatose have ambitious plans for their Halloween night show at the Catalyst. Maybe a little too ambitious? That’s what the five-piece began to wonder after diving into the preparation for their tribute to Woodstock Friday, at which they’ll cover the songs of Jimi Hendrix, the Who, the Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival, among others. Even for a folk-bluegrass ensemble as high-energy as the Brothers Comatose, the challenges quickly became obvious.
“When you’re learning tunes written by other people, and putting them in the format of a string band, which doesn’t have loud drums or a wall of guitar sound like a lot of these bands had, you start to wonder, ‘How the hell are we going to make this work?’” says Ben Morrison, who plays guitar in the group, and shares lead vocals with his brother Alex. “‘How are going to make a fiddle sound like an electric guitar? How can we play Jimi Hendrix on the fiddle?’”
But Morrison says that challenge has invigorated the group’s members by taking them out of their comfort zones. Even though the majority of the night’s songs will be covers—Morrison confirms that a few of their own songs will work their way into the set, too—the band is planning to make this just as much of a Brothers Comatose show as it is a tribute to bands from the past.
“The songs are already written, so we’re just like, ‘OK, what can I do with this? How can I make this work for us?’” he says. “I have a lower vocal register range, so we have to change some of the keys, and I am playing different guitar chords, but we’re still a string band no matter what. We have limitations, but it’s fun to put those puzzle pieces together in our puzzle, to make it all fit. So it’s challenging, but exciting.”
Considering how much energy they’re putting into preparing for the show, it’s surprising that the Woodstock theme wasn’t even part of their original plan.
“Initially, we [wanted] to cover an album in its entirety, but we couldn’t all agree on one that would go well with our instruments,” says Morrison. “One day, our tour manager said, ‘Why don’t we do a Woodstock-themed show with songs that were played at Woodstock? That way you have a bunch of artists and songs to pick from that people know and that would be fun to play live.’”
Meanwhile, the band—which built opening gigs with established bands like Santa Cruz’s Devil Makes Three into headlining gigs and appearances at Outside Lands and other festivals—is working on the follow-up to their 2012 album Respect the Van, which Morrison says is likely to be released next spring.
“We’ve [basically] been on tour from mid-January until a couple weeks ago, so this is our first considerable block of time off,” he says. “It’s been fun to not think about shows and just to be able to work on new, interesting stuff.”
The Brothers Comatose will perform at 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31, The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15/advance, $19/door. For more information, call 423-1338.