Summer may not officially arrive for a few more days, but don’t tell that to the 500 or so family members, friends and fans of singer-songwriter Donavon Frankenreiter who packed into the Coach House Friday night (June 15, 2012).
Given his mix here of surf grooves, folk and ’70s rock via a fast-paced, 90-minute set of mostly original material, it was easy to imagine Frankenreiter and his sharp five-man band playing the same set at Doheny or Huntington Beach on a perfect day under a summer sun.
The longtime O.C.-based artist, who now primarily lives in Hawaii, has increasingly been able to craft shows in tune with his audience. He set things in motion with laid-back soft-rock like the inviting ukulele-anchored “Free,” a song that captures the noted surfer’s free-spirited musical blend and positive lyrical themes. Subsequent offerings such as “Glow,” “West Coast Fool” and “Shine” also reflected that casual style without forfeiting tight melodies or polished songcraft.
Over the course of a 20-song set, Frankenreiter gathered steam while bringing more range and depth to his pieces, many of them pulled from his latest album, Start Livin’. “You” surprised with its Appalachia-style folk sound, well-suited to the singer’s warm baritone vocals. The strains of soul, pop and rock amid “The Way It Is” tangled together into another standout moment.
Frankenreiter’s stuff may get branded as soft, yet that wasn’t always the case at this first of two shows at his old San Juan Capistrano haunt, a place oft-frequented by Sunchild, the local band that first brought him attention. Several times during this set he kicked things up a notch with more hard-hitting blues-rock, while a heavy version of the song “That’s Too Bad (Byron Jam),” from his album Move by Yourself, added a dynamic shot near the end of the show.
Even when playing acoustic material, Frankenreiter is no folkie. More than a decade into his successful solo career, he has become a genuine musical artist who has far outdistanced the tired stories of being merely a professional surfer who happens to sing and play guitar. Coming out for his encore, he walked on stage alone and delivered a mighty version of Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” With the audience singing along at key points, he continued to find power in each line, as slowly the other members of his band joined in and the song took on unexpected hints of modern Americana.
The performance almost came full circle after that, as Frankenreiter delivered “It Don’t Matter,” another gentle tune with an infectious singalong chorus. This time he asked for a volunteer, and young Mission Viejo resident Mika Honda got on stage to add some crowd-pleasing vocals for an extended rendition.
“Thank you so much for such a beautiful night,” Frankenreiter said before exiting.
Opening was singer-songwriter Kevin Miso, who shares a similar love of the Jack Johnson-esque surf/folk/rock sound. His impressive ability to play a variety of instruments, often during the same song, came in the service of potent originals such as “Home” and “Smile.” The highlight was “Finally,” an R&B ballad featuring wonderful vocals and piano play.
Donavon Frankenreiter plays the Coach House again tonight, June 16, and also just added another date at the venue on June 22. Tickets are $26. Call 949-496-8930 for more information.