Photo by Michael Bialas

Watching Escondido, Kolars Grow: How Two Pair on One Bill Can Beat a Full House

Two genre-bending duos with a western folkabilly flavor and a firm commitment bring their kindred spirits to Denver for a couple of shows that would make a mother (and father) proud.

“You’re Not Like Anybody Else”
March 22, 2018

Some bands feel like family. All it takes is that first interaction — an interview, a concert, a record — to gain an instant connection with an artist you want to see succeed just so you can proudly announce, “I remember when they were born.”

Two duos that make me feel that way — Escondido and Kolars — rocked at Globe Hall in Denver on 21 March, and the reverie returned. It was just like seeing an accomplished son and his significant other come home for a short stay after spending too many years and miles away working too hard to make something of themselves.

“We’re super-happy to be in Denver,” Jessica Maros, the singing-songwriting partner/co-founder of Escondido with Tyler James, said about 10 minutes into their hourlong headlining show. “It’s been a long time.”

Escondido’s Tyler James (left) and Jessica Maros perform in Telluride in 2013. Photo by Michael Bialas

That’s true, especially since I hadn’t seen this Southwestern-infused, kindred-spirited pair of in-sync performers since they played a small club in Telluride in association with the Ride Festival in 2013.

Prior to Escondido’s Telluride debut following the figurative birth of their baby The Ghost of Escondido — the self-released first album they recorded live at The Casino studio in Nashville — the pair charmingly played off each other during a lively phone interview. Sounding like a cute couple with similar interests (spaghetti Westerns, haunting melodies) who think and talk alike, Maros and James made it clear their relationship was strictly professional following a few pre-Escondido dates.

“We’re best friends now like an old married couple or something,” James said as he and Maros shared a laugh.

Getting Escondido off the ground while both lived in Nashville didn’t last forever, though. Maros decided to move to Los Angeles before recently returning to the Music City. There’s nothing like the comforts of home to bring two back together — even if it’s nowhere near where they originally grew up (Vancouver, British Columbia, for Maros; northwest Iowa for James).

That “old married couple” chemistry seemingly remains as Escondido perseveres, through thick and thin.

“We just do what we can and do what we love and the rest is … work hard and hope we can have a career from it,” Maros said in 2013, explaining how she and James decided that they were better off as a duo than as solo artists.

Five years later, their relationship remains rock-solid.

“It’s a tough dynamic to have gone through what we’ve gone through, running a business and keeping our differences out of what we love the most: making music together,” Maros wrote in response to a direct message through Facebook. “We have the utmost respect for each other musically and in the end wouldn’t have changed any of it … it’s cool that we can put down our own ego and pride to make this band work and that’s what we’ve done.

“At the end of the day, the music we make is an extension of ourselves and it’s strong enough to overcome any differences we have. If we were all the same, we wouldn’t learn anything in life. It’s the mutual respect that keeps us going!!!”

That was apparent during a set that focused heavily on songs from The Ghost of Escondido and began almost like an informal jam session as James on electric guitar, his bassist-brother Grant Geertsma and drummer Gabe Pigg kept playing while Maros hopped onstage with an acoustic guitar. They seamlessly segued into the mid-tempo “Don’t Love Me Too Much”, the first of three straight from that debut album, which included one of James’ trademark trumpet blasts to begin “Evil Girls”.

James, in a blue jacket and tan wide-brim hat, and Maros, sparkly and shiny in a beaded pantsuit, tease each other onstage like a chummy brother and sister. One minute she’s feigning annoyance when her water bottle disappears, then providing a wall of support a short time later as he beats himself up for getting lost “about three times” during a solo on “Black Roses”, another Ghost song that earned the David Lynch seal of approval back in the day. “You’re awesome!” Maros assured James.

Escondido’s Jessica Maros shines in a beaded pantsuit at Denver’s Globe Hall on March 21, 2018. Photo by Michael Bialas

Early Escondido, with soundscapes of sun-kissed So-Cali goodness belying some looming clouds hanging over their songs, also made appearances on TV shows such as Conan and Nashville. So it was somewhat alarming to see only about 100 people in the audience by the time they hit the stage shortly after 10 o’clock. Sure, it was a midweek night for clubbers who probably were still recovering from a St. Paddy’s Day weekend of partying, but a proud papa doesn’t want to see anyone diss his gifted kids.

Turning up the desert heat, Escondido performed like they were entertaining a full house, though. Graciously thanking the receptive crowd on several occasions, they recalled their most recent Denver appearance at the Lost Lake Lounge followed by a harrowing drive to Breckenridge, and James professed his love for the state since his childhood.

“We, of course, put on John Denver as soon as we got to Colorado,” James said after Escondido finished a rare ballad, “Try,” from their second album, 2016’s Walking With A Stranger. “He was Grant and I’s parents’ favorite artist, so we grew up singing about Colorado before we knew what it was.”

Escondido also gave a sneak preview of the single they were premiering the next day — “You’re Not Like Anybody Else,” which featured bittersweet lyrics, lovely harmonies and — yes — another awesome James solo. It was from their forthcoming album Warning Bells (no release date), recorded in Echo Park and produced by Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Kurt Vile, Beck).

“We’re looking to build a little more momentum so we can find a release partner,” Maros shared through Facebook. “So we’re gonna put out more singles.”

Escondido did close out the set with two more new ones (James disclosed that he wrote “You Get Me High” on 4/20 last year), followed by “Bad Without You”, yet another killer cut off The Ghost of Escondido, then performed a smoldering cover of “When Will I Be Loved” for the encore.

I hope it won’t be another five years before I see Escondido again. Going back to that 2013 interview, it seems guaranteed that there will be plenty of other opportunities.

“I guess we felt good about [Escondido] from the beginning,” James said. “… We just really loved the music we were making. We knew that we were gonna take it as far as it would go. So now we’re, for sure, planning to do that forever.”

Let’s hope that’s also the case in some form or fashion for Kolars, the husband-and-wife act of guitarist Rob Kolar and tap-dancing drummer Lauren Brown.

Rob Kolar (left) and Lauren Brown (second from left) pose with other members of He’s My Brother She’s My Sister at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2012. Photo by Michael Bialas

They wooed me right from the start as members of Los Angeles-based He’s My Brother She’s My Sister, the first band I saw perform at the 2012 Austin City Limits Music Festival on the same stage where Esperanza Spalding and Alabama Shakes soon followed. HMBSMS included Kolar’s sister Rachel, who shared lead vocals and the passion for fancy duds, standup bassist Oliver Newell and lap slide guitarist Ryan Richter.

That group, which I immediately grew fond of and continued to adore when I saw them at the Fox Theatre in Boulder in 2013, gave way in 2016 to Kolars. The duo may be a stripped-down version of their previous incarnation but they’re still a bundle of thrash-and-burn, made-for-radio activity.

Rob Kolar (left) and Lauren Brown perform at Globe Hall in Denver on March 21, 2018.Photo by Michael Bialas

There’s Kolar, the workmanlike singer-songwriter and studio wizard in basic black slacks and a shirt with cut-off sleeves, flexing his musical muscles while churning out manic movements on his electric guitar, sometimes while he’s flat on his back.

Brown, who was named 2018 SXSW’s Most Impressive Multi-Tasking artist by an Austin website, clicks and clacks her heels on a bass drum while driving the beat forward with a stand-up kit throughout the 10-song set. It ends way too soon after explosive numbers such as “Dangerous,” “Turn Out the Lights,” “One More Thrill” and “Dizzy,” all of which appear on their 2017 self-titled release.

The workout made Brown, wearing black fishnet stockings (the left one ripped to punkish shreds) while continuing the glitz-and-glamour theme in a twinkling silvery minidress, a little light-headed. Saying after “Bullet on the Run,” the second song, “I forgot about the altitude. … We are in the Mile High City, right?” she recovered nicely and never missed a beat.

As they close out this tour with Escondido in the Los Angeles area this weekend, these Kolars seem made for each other. The Man in Black, obviously with tongue in cheek, expressed that sentiment in a direct message through Facebook this week.

“Being married on the road, as you can imagine, has its ups and downs,” Kolar wrote when asked about their 24/7 professional/personal existence. “It gets especially tricky when we share groupies or have threesomes with our fans. Sometimes we wanna kill each other but usually it’s fun and full of love.

“There’s no one I’d rather share the stage with. Lauren is the greatest bandmate and performer I’ve ever worked with or could imagine, so it’s an honor to be in this band together.”

That’s not to say a He’s My Brother She’s My Sister get-together is out of the question, though. HMBSMS songs from 2012’s Nobody Dances in This Town such as “Touch the Lightning,” “Let It Live Free” and “The Same Old Ground” often find their way into a Kolars set.

“There is no definitive info about a He’s My Brother She’s My Sister reunion, but you never know,” Kolar said. “KOLARS is def the focus and priority for us but we have a lot of fondness for HMBSMS …”

Same here. Without a premonition about their future reconfiguration, I wrote in 2013, “Such a vivacious live act should be impossible to stop, so maybe a breakthrough is on the horizon for Kolars & Co.”

It hasn’t quite happened yet for He’s My Brother She’s My Sister but this offshoot doesn’t fall too far from the family tree.

Plant the seed and keep rooting for the home team.

Michael Bialas is a journalist and photographer who enjoys writing about entertainment and sports for a number of online publications, including PopMatters and No Depression. Follow him on Twitter: @mjbialas