You may have seen their posters around Mills' campus inviting you to their shows: three smiling lads, with curly hair and mish mashed vests, poised in front of a vibrant bougainvillea covered wall, looking for all the world like something out of a late 1960's high school yearbook. You can almost imagine the caption: "The Moanin' Dove, Lincoln High's very own garage band! Which Dove is your fave?"
In actuality The Moanin' Dove, alive and kicking in real time, are three young men barely into their 20's who attended college together at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Their band, The Moanin' Dove, has been creating a buzz in Bay Area night clubs and college campuses alike. They've played such popular SF venues as The Make Out room and the Hotel Utah, and in Oakland, The Uptown and the Starry Plough.
While the trio are all music majors, each member of the Moanin' Dove comes from a distinctly different musical background. Rob Shelton who plays Fender Rhodes keyboard and melodica brings a strong blues element to the band with his technique and lyrical style. James Riotto who plays stand-up and fretless basses, has studied jazz technique. Josh Korr brings an incredibly danceable classic rock back-beat into the mix.
The simultaneous tension and overlap between these three genres picks up and progresses from where the great music of the '60's and 70's left off. The Moanin' Dove stress that their process of creating music more light-hearted than it is academic. "Humor deflates pretension and I think that is one way the Moanin Dove gets across in general. We are serious musicians but you don't have to take us seriously" said Josh Korr
There is no front man for this band: Shelton and Riotto switch off on vocal responsibilities, with Korr jumping in to sing on occasion from his seat behind his drum kit. Their lyrical content ranges from the dark to the absurd. Certain lyrics like those in "Path of Fire" were inspired by Korr and Riotto's love of Russian Literature. On "Dead Man's Daughter" Riotto sings the chorus in Arabic, which he majors in alongside music in school.
The ocean has been a recurrent theme in their more recent songs.
"We all grew up on the ocean and this has had a profound impact on our development. I think the ocean becomes a metaphor for the sacred power of women. The ocean is something that makes life possible. It is at once beautiful and terrible in its power" Korr said.
Citing influences as broadly varied as Thelonious Monk to Tom Waits, Stevie Wonder to Tortoise, Led Zeppelin to Fela Kuti, The Moanin' Dove's sound defies easy, immediate labeling.
"At this point, as we haven't recorded an album yet, you just have to see us play to get a real feel for our sound" said Korr.
With multiple dates coming up in the Bay Area in November and December, this shouldn't be too hard to do. As yet unsigned to a record label, the Moanin' Dove are currently weighing the various offers that have been presented to them.
"We meet people all the time after we play a show who come up to us and offer us free time in their recording studios, and there are a few labels that have shown an interest" said Korr.
The Moanin' Dove managed to slip into Thursday Night Special the other week as well. Thursday Night Special is a bi-monthly music showcase put on by grad students in the Mills music program. It usually features improvisational and abstract pieces by Mills music students.
[CS1]"[The Moanin' Dove] sound really different from the other music I heard tonight. It was catchy but also kinda out there. I really liked them" said junior Jennifer Arbios after a recent Moanin' Dove performance at Thursday Night Special.
Besides talent the Moanin' Dove are undeniably charismatic. There is something decidedly Muppet-like about the Moanin' Dove's stage presence, their voluminous mops of curly hair flopping in unison. You'd be hard pressed to find a single t-shirt in these boys' closets as the trio dress like college professors from the 1970's: corduroy and tweed blazers, suit-vests, dress shirts, paisley ties and leather shoes. While fashion-wise the trio have a similar aesthetic, their personalities and physicality are distinctly different from each other. Shelton, is tall and Anglo looking with an ever present mischievous twinkle in his eyes. Korr, is affable, outgoing, and cherub faced like a young Bob Dylan. Riotto with his strikingly handsome Mediterranean/Middle Eastern features, has an articulate and sincere demeanor.
The Moanin' Dove relocated from Massachusetts to the East Bay last Spring hoping to find audiences more receptive to their sound.
"In Massachusetts we would try to play…rock'n'roll shows, and no one really had any… significant response. I mean, we were working our asses off. We had a reputation for being musicians, for being people who worked hard at music, but no one supported us in any tangible way. Then we came out here and like the first time we played out here people loved it and we were like 'Holy Shit!'" said Riotto.
The Moanin' Dove hypothesize that the tepid response they got in their East coast college town had to do with the music program being largely experimental and abstract in it's leanings at Hampshire.
"There was hardly anyone in the music program [at Hampshire] who was really into rock'n'roll." said Shelton.
By being in this band Korr and Riotto are actually clocking credit towards their senior theses through independent study contracts with Hampshire college. Shelton, who graduated from Hampshire in Spring of '06, engineered the initial recordings the band did last March, and used the songs as part of his thesis.
On Oct. 14 The Moanin' Dove played The Stork Club located on the Oakland end of Telegraph Avenue. They were put on the bill last minute, with several other bands who, unlike the Moanin' Dove, fit into the punk genre.
The Stork Club's dim yet spacious interior is lit primarily with colored Christmas lights. To the right of the stage a vinyl upholstered booth style bench, remnant from the 1960s spans the length of the wall. Until recently the wall behind the bar boasted a huge collection of vintage Barbie dolls still in their original packages.
As the Moanin' Dove took the stage, a bearded old hippie dude in a green sequined top hat materialized in the audience, looking ready to shake a tail feather. Several feet back from the stage sundry hipsters stirred their gin and tonics and sipped their beers nonchalantly from their stations at various tables.
Few people questioned had seen the Moanin' Dove play before. Bay Area indie rock audiences can be tepid at best in their response to new musical acts. The crowds in smaller rock venues tend to be more reserved and self-conscious than a crowd at say, The Fillmore. That said, by the time the Moanin' Dove were halfway through their crowd-pleasing number "Put Some Soul in Your Boogie", establishing their style and warming up the audience, several people joined the hippie dude on the dance floor.
Three songs into their set and most everyone in the crowd was dancing, and by the time they closed with the more experimental, improvisational "Path of Fire", the crowd was still right with them, clapping and calling out midway through the song. "These guys are fuckin' sick!" one audience member hollered to his friend.
In order to stay focused on their music the trio live together in a two bedroom house just blocks from the Mills campus. By the time I met with the Moanin' Dove at their house on Thursday, Oct. 19, they'd played shows 9 out of the last 10 nights.
"It's been pretty insane," said Korr.
"We love it though," Shelton added.
In addition gigging out at bars, galleries and house parties several times a week, and meeting for band practice a minimum of three times a week, the Moanin' Dove all hold day jobs. Riotto works an after school program where he teaches music and beginning Arabic to grades K-5. Shelton provides in home care to a man with muscular dystrophy. Korr works for a high-end floral designer which may help to explain the Moanin' Dove's practice of handing out flowers as a way to promote the band.
"I'd love to be playing every night, and also working on the band everyday, but also throwing day jobs in…is pretty tiring" said Riotto.
With the recent national success of such rock and blues revival acts as The White Stripes and The Black Keys, The Moanin' Dove have tapped into a musical niche whose market is ever growing. With many upcoming shows in the Bay Area in November and December, The Moanin' Dove are doubtlessly a driven, hard working band, one you'd do well to check out soon so you can say "I knew them when…"