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Brainstory at Mississippi Studios; May 8th, 2024

Brainstory at Mississippi Studios; May 8th, 2024

It seems fitting that the sun was shining the day Brainstory came to town, one of the first late spring days in Portland that carries with it the faint tune of summer. Brainstory is a sunny band, unequivocally Californian, and sprawling into all the nuances of that descriptor, taking up the lineages of jazz, rock, soul, and r&b, drawn cross-country and baked together under the light of a psychedelic star. As the sun set, they took the stage at Mississippi Studios to the pause menu theme from Goldeneye N64 before launching into an opening jam, and then into “Listen,” the third track from their latest album Sounds Good.

The new album, produced by Leon Michels of El Michels Affair, is the band’s second full-length, and stands as a testament both to Brainstory’s abilities and to Michel’s signature touch, combining the band’s ear for catchy riffs with the legendary engineer’s ability to orchestrate intricate harmonies and deep layers of instrumentation.

If the record’s production represents the songs dressed to the nines, Brainstory’s live show finds them in t-shirts and vintage denim, stripped to the essentials but still fresh as ever, tight in the right places, and with the right amount of casual slack. The heart of the trio is obviously in the chemistry between actual brothers Kevin and Tony Martin on guitar and bass, respectively, and brother-from-another, Eric Hagstrom on drums. The three have a conversational quality to their set that only comes from years of playing together, and manifests in the way the songs open up to extended solos, morph into deep grooves, and then settle back into their original shapes.

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The band’s ethos seems on it’s face to be fun–the single “Peach Optimo” is dedicated to their favorite blunt, and “XFaded” chronicles the spinning into the end of a long party night–but there’s also a seriousness running underneath that grounds the band’s lyrics in a broader reality. At one point Kevin took a moment to honor Juan Mendoza, his and Tony’s grandfather, who was their first musical inspiration and who passed during the production of Sounds Good. This was just before “Gift of Life,” a song which Kevin told the audience he had originally written when he was 19, and which has taken on a new valence in the years since.

The group moved through much of Sounds Good, though not necessarily in album order, and sprinkled in some of the older hits, including the closer, “Thank You,” from 2019’s Buck. The live version morphed into an extended psych jam that culminated in Hagstrom tossing aside the mallets he’d been playing with and soloing across his kit with his bare hands, another testament to Brainstory’s ability to be technically impressive without losing that feeling of togetherness; togetherness with each other, with their inspirations, and with the audience, all of us shining there together under the sun.