Midnight North plays River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains Township Oct. 26
PLAINS TWP. — Growing up around the Grateful Dead, Grahame Lesh had a front row seat to a band that left an indelible mark on American music. Now the 28-year-old son of Dead bassist Phil Lesh makes his own contribution to the American song book.
Lesh’s band, Midnight North, performs at 9 p.m. Oct. 26 at the River Street Jazz Cafe with opening acts MiZ and Flux Capacitor. The San Francisco based five piece has built a reputation for passionate live performances and elegant three-part harmonies.
The band’s 2015 studio effort, “Scarlet Skies” showcases an impressive diversity of sounds all wrapped around a noticeable attention to lyricism and song structure.
“We do focus on the songs first,” Lesh said. “For me, it’s probably a rare song that makes it to the band. It has to fit, and I have to hear it in my head as something we can pull off. Once we take it there, we’re lucky in that as players and as singers, we can take the song wherever it needs to go and still sound like us.”
Songs on the record range from the blues-tinged opener “Phoenix Motel” to the straightforward country twang of “Stayin’ Single, Drinkin’ Doubles.”
Lesh said the record and all of the work produced by Midnight North is a combination of the influences of all band members.
“A song like ‘Turn Around,’ which I wrote, that’s my specific set of influences I was focusing on at the time, probably Ryan Adams when we was doing his ‘Cold Roses’ thing,” Lesh said. “The song before, Elliott Peck’s song, ‘Cactus Tree,’ is a very different set of influences.”
Lesh and front-woman Peck began collaborating in 2012, covering Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris songs. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Alex Jordan joined the band in 2013 after the release of its first album “End of the Night.”
“We just sort of jumped right into those three-part harmonies,” Lesh said of Jordan’s introduction to the group. “It can get pretty complicated and we do have to work on it, but the blend and the natural ability to jump into it was surprising for us in a good way.”
In addition to delivering moving performances of their original work, Midnight North has become known for riveting covers such as Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Helplessly Hoping” and the Grateful Dead’s “Viola Lee Blues.”
Lesh said the band enjoys improvising in a live setting, whether it’s a Dead tune or the occasional Sturgill Simpson song, but it is not always the focal point of performance.
“I like to keep in mind the setting and the setlist, and if it’s not the right time to go all out into never-never land, it’s not the time,” Lesh said. “We write little escape valves into our songs , so if on the record, there’s a specific length solo or instrumental part of just a break in the action, live we can take that out as far as we need and there’s a way back.”
Songwriting is the band’s favorite part of making music, Lesh said.
“It’s fun to jam in a completely structureless setting, but I think the real musical fun and the real important musical work is done writing songs,” Lesh said. “It’s not just the lyrics, it’s the melody and how they go together.”
Reaching out to the Midwest and East Coast for the first time in the summer of 2015, Midnight North has begun to reach fans in different parts of the country, and Lesh said the group is excited to return and meet new listeners.
“We’re really stoked,” Lesh said of coming to the Jazz Cafe. “We have some friends who have played there. We’ve heard great things.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter @TLArts
IF YOU GO
What: Midnight North with special guests MiZ and Flux Capacitor
Where: River Street Jazz Cafe, 667 North River Street, Plains Township
When: 9 p.m. Oct. 26
Additional information: Tickets cost $8 and are available at riverstreetjazzcafe.com or at the venue door the evening of the event. Patrons must be 21 and older to attend. Doors open at 7 p.m.