SAN FRANCISCO — One minute Soul Asylum’s Dan Murphy was ripping out a lead on his trademark Gibson Les Paul goldtop. The next he was wailing into the mic, in the spotlight, centerstage.
One minute Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy was standing idly offstage, a hand in his pocket, puffing on a cigarette. The next he was bouncing out a bassline, playing backup to his bandmates.
Minutes later, he was seated at the keyboard, tapping out a melody.
During Golden Smog’s lengthy set Wednesday night at Slim’s, the seven-piece all-star ensemble swapped instruments and spots on stage at a dizzying pace. Yet despite all the physical activity, the music remained focused and paced.
Blending the country-pop tracks that filled their October release Weird Tales and their first full-length Down By The Old Mainstream, the all-star collective delivered the goods with memorable effect. They opened the show with Byrds-styled four-part harmonies on “Looking Forward To Seeing You” — in this case, featuring Run Westy Run’s Kraig Johnson on lead vocals.
From there, they just kept the tunes coming, changing lead vocals as well as lead guitar from song to song.
While many bands face fierce in-fighting for time in the spotlight, Golden Smog showed a dearth of egos by constantly shuffling their lineup, with all except ex-Big Star drummer Jody Stephens periodically stepping away from their instruments to stand on the top stair just offstage, smoking or staring out at the capacity crowd.
Guitarists Murphy, Tweedy, Johnson and Gary Louris of the Jayhawks shared the singing and guitar solo duties throughout the night.
In addition to the four axemen, Golden Smog’s ever-evolving lineup featured violinist/vocalist Jessy Greene, bassist Marc Perlman of the Jayhawks and whomever happened to be free on keyboards.
True to the Golden Smog laid-back code of ethics, Tweedy said before the gig that moonlighting with the band allows him to do things he can’t do on his day job fronting country-pop veterans Wilco.
“Outside of California, I get to smoke a lot more on stage,” Tweedy said. “I get to play bass and lead guitar. I like being a support guy. I’m really comfortable with that.”
Having largely outgrown the joke-band title conferred on the motley crew after the release of their debut EP On Golden Smog, which featured Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner guesting on a cover of Bad Company’s “Shooting Star,” Golden Smog seemed none-too-eager to stash the laughs this time around.
Rather, they peppered each other with good-natured jabs throughout the show.
A deadpan Tweedy, for instance, addressed an enthusiastic crowd after shredding through a series of squealing leads on “White Shell Road.”
“Did you just now figure out I’m a rock star?” Tweedy asked. At which point Murphy chimed in, “We know because he tells us every day.”
Such tunes as “Glad And Sorry” recalled the roots-rock sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd. But the songs were played with a sense of humor and heart that set them apart from those other Southern gentlemen.
Such raucous songs as “To Call My Own” (RealAudio excerpt) and “Until You Came Along,” (RealAudio excerpt) from the new LP were well-received, but it was the slow, toned-down delivery of “Pecan Pie,” that won the greatest applause.
Slimming to a four-piece, with Tweedy stepping to the mic and Stephens tossing his drumsticks aside in favor of a tambourine, Golden Smog received vocal assistance from a loyal throng that mouthed the words or softly sang along.
In a return to their playful roots, the collective sealed the deal with a four-song encore that included straight-faced covers of Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around And Fell In Love,” and the Split Enz “I Got You.”