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Columnist Garrett Wheeler hits three stellar indie acts in one night.

By Garrett Wheeler

It was a tough decision: three shows, one night and one columnist. Not an easy call, at least not this time. Sure, I hit up some MySpace accounts, listened to a couple tracks, but nothing really stood out as a hands down favorite. What I really wanted to do last Saturday night was see all three shows, so that's what I did. Call it stupidity, call it luck, or call it some damn fine journalism (that's my vote), but somehow I pulled it off and saw all three without a song missed. Or close enough, anyway.

8:55pm, 418 Project: I'm late, but that's OK. The opening acts weren't local bands anyway, and that's out of my jurisdiction, pardner. But I was just in time for my target interest, Santa Cruz indie-rockers Synonyms for Silence. The opening chord was dark and drawn-out, setting up a haunting tone for the sophisticated blend of melodic post-punk that was to follow. Reverb-drenched guitar lines cascaded into brooding choruses before simmering back into the minor-chord murk. Fluid tempo changes added sophistication to the music, while lead vocals were delivered with liberal doses of cathartic release. Following in the steps of neoalternative groups including Los Gatos sensation Dredg, Synonyms for Silence displayed not only artistic potential but a viable attraction for contemporary rock fans. Have a listen for yourself at the band's upcoming gig at the Blue Lagoon on March 5 alongside Silian Rail and Mountain Animal Hospital.

9:45pm, Poet and Patriot: Paul M. Davis is a Santa Cruz legend, even if he did pack up and move to Chicago a couple years back. A talented freelance writer whose wit and wisdom appear in these very pages, Davis the musician displayed literary talent alongside a pretty sharp hand on the six-string. The folk-inflected country tunes were a perfect addition to a round of beers at the Poet, even if the crowd was so thick that trying to get a beer was like swimming through concrete. Clever lyrics dripped with irony and satire, and there's no doubt guys like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits have been playing on Davis' CD player for years on end. As much as I wanted to stick around, I had to leave the twangy saloon in order to hit my last order of business a block away.

10:30pm, Caffe Pergolesi: Maneuvering through a well-caffeinated crowd at the Perg, I found my place amid the rain-drenched fans in time to catch the opening notes from freewheeling indie-rockers Man/Miracle (whose bassist, Brian Kennedy, also occasionally graces these pages). The tightly wound riff-rock was rambunctious and fun, giving the audience plenty of opportunity to bop their coffee buzzes into oblivion. Punchy guitar riffs and up-tempo speeds were driven by boisterous vocals and equally energetic drumming. Man/Miracle comfortably straddled the line between rough-edged garage rock and pop-sensible emo music, invoking sounds of British post-punk similar to the Kooks or New York's Strokes. In climatic fashion, Man/Miracle ended the show with the crowd screaming for more and one music writer too tired to argue. Head up to San Francisco's Noise Pop Festival Feb. 26-March 2 and see Man/Miracle and a host of other indie-rockers, including the Magnetic Fields and the Mountain Goats.

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