The Donkeys live at Sodabar, San Diego (4/4/2015)

The Donkeys are described as dreamy surfer rock which is apt for their albums, most recently “Born With Stripes” (2011, Dead Ocean).  They have been around for a decade in San Diego and nationally, and had a song (“Excelsior Lady”) featured on an episode of Lost.  They’ve been compared to the Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills, and Nash.  That isn’t necessarily appealing.  But, you’ve got to be able to play to be compared to those bands and they can play.  Primarily drums, keyboard, base and guitar, each guy can take a lead confidently and all of them sing to some extent led primarily by the drummer and keyboardist.  

A day after the show, the CD doesn’t pack the punch of them live.  It meanders along dreamy guitar and synth landscapes with smooth warm lyrics.  It is pleasant enough but isn’t challenging and on the first listen, it’s fading into the background.  But their show, with frenetic breakdowns and surprising tempo changes and each guy getting a turn to sing a song they must have written themselves because the sounds, the rhythms changed so much depending on who was singing- the drummer was Grateful Dead, the keyboardist alternative, the bassist more rockabilly and it was brought together by the camaraderie shown on their faces.  You sensed pride in what they were doing for each other as every song had a tightness but aloof rhythmic identity that might slow, speed, or stutter seemingly at random but without a lost beat.
San Diego is their hometown and the crowd was made up of many friends and family who may have brought out something extra in the band, yet they had it well within them to show up.  As the CD continues I’m having difficulty fully locking into it, unlike the what may have been 10-minute finale called “Born with Stripes” (lasting 1:40 on the album).  Light and playful on the album it was heavier and darker but perhaps more celebratory at the show and they let every guy annihilate a solo and the stage slowly filled with friends and fans playing any manner of instrument, grabbing mics and singing, and the crowd got swept up too.  
So Sodabar brought friends, fans and newbies together to watch high energy laid-back surfer rock played by a very talented band.  You can find their music on iTunes and you should get it.  Now if they could infuse that frenetic energy into their latest recording.  

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