Toward the end of Tiny Ocean’s set at Stella Blues on Thursday night, guitarist Jeremy Coster leaned into the microphone. “You’re in for a real treat,” he said, “because Jampson Jubilee is here.”
“You’re here!” someone yelled from the audience.
“Tiny Ocean!” someone else said.
It was a fitting turn in a night on Crown Street that found the New Haven-based Tiny Ocean and Vern Matz welcoming the New London-based Jampson Jubilee to the Stella Blues stage — and bringing out the people to make it worth everyone’s while.
Vern Matz — Daniel Belgrad on vocals and guitar and Michael Lituchy on keyboards and backing vocals — began the evening with a set of originals, many from the band’s recent debut EP. On their recorded material, Belgrad and Lituchy are joined by drummer Noah Silvestry. Without drums, Belgrad and Lituchy floated from song to song, gently, delicately. It worked, hushing the growing audience and forcing them to listen.
“This is a welcome departure,” Belgrad said between songs, noting that he and Lituchy were both still students (at Yale, though Belgrad didn’t mention that). “I was writing a philosophy paper and he was doing a biology project, so this is not what we’re supposed to be doing. But it’s a lot more fun.”
Their set ended with a flourish of synth waves from Lituchy, who couldn’t repress a grin when at last deploying all the effects he had to alter the sound of his keyboard. “Hope you had as much fun with that phaser as we just did,” Belgrad said. His hope wasn’t unfounded.
The crowd had doubled during Vern Matz’s set, warming up the place for Tiny Ocean. The four-piece — Kierstin Seiser on vocals and guitar, Coster on lead guitar, Keith Neuman on bass, and Jon Morse on drums — have been working steadily on the project’s debut album, which they expect to release in the next few months, and the attention they’ve brought to bear on the material showed. Coster, Neuman, and Morse together proved to be a subtle and supple band, always keeping the rhythm breathing. They sounded relaxed and confident, musicians making exactly the sound they wanted to hear.
But the real hook was Seiser’s songwriting, an evocative Americana that was somehow frank and elusive, bitter and funny, all at the same time. She could take the vibe from dreamy to gritty in the space of a song or two, sometimes within a beat or two, the band always moving with her. The musicians’ performance pulled cheers from the crowd at the end of every song, whether it was a song they’d gotten to know well or one they were just trying in front of an audience (“a world premiere,” Neuman joked at one point). The band ended its set as taut as it began. This reporter could have heard more.
Jampson Jubilee — Geoff Mitchill on guitar, Tim Donnel on drums, guitar, and keys, Jake Kaeser on bass and keys, Nick Capozza on uke, bass, and trombone, and Jon Young on guitar, with everyone sharing vocal duties — traded Tiny Ocean’s intense focus for a freewheeling chaos that they pulled off through charm and a blend of jam-band, rock, ska, and a smattering of other styles that made each song fun and unpredictable. Even a cover of “Wayfaring Stranger” had a few curveballs thrown into it, not least of all the patter at the end.
“That’s an old one,” Young said. “I don’t think anyone knows who wrote that.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “They’re dead,” he said.
“Take off your clothes!” someone yelled from the crowd. It was past midnight by now.
“If you told us twice, we’d do it,” Young said. Jampson Jubilee’s energy kept people at Stella Blues late enough to turn Thursday into Friday, whether they had to be at work in just a few hours or not.