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Sea of Cortez rocks Snug Harbor 

The Deal: Inspired instrumental set from Sea of Cortez

The Good: Great instrumental rock is all about tension and release; how to build it without overkill, and divining just the right moment to let it go. In Sea of Cortez's first local gig in two years on Aug. 25, the Rodney Lanier-led octet packed the Snug Harbor stage and delivered a scintillating primer opening for the Dynamite Brothers. A get-reacquainted gig in Charleston a couple weeks prior had clearly knocked off whatever rust might have collected, because this night the band was drum-tight.

With a four-guitar lineup (including lap and pedal steel), keys, two percussionists and bass, Sea of Cortez could easily have lifted the roof off and blown out the windows. Instead, they wisely chose a sound-level friendly to every nuance, from Tyler Baum's lap-steel and the E-bow sirens of Ben Best to Chris Baucom's keyboard gauze, Ned Brownlow's congos and drummer Chris Walldorf's half-skins/half-vibes stints. Newcomer Chris Lonon delivered great electric bottom end, particularly on the slinky "Copycat," while Best, Baum and Joey Stephens' guitar squalls highlighted several of the night's memorable crescendos.

But the real stars of the evening were the compositions. Lanier's songs are peppered with south-of-the-border flavors (often courtesy of Lanier's accordion), Gypsy waltzes, Tortoise trance grooves and Explosions in the Sky-like dynamics. But instead of sounding derivative, the songs successfully split the difference and wind up distinctly their own, equal parts grace and power. In the crowded instrumental rock landscape, that's no small feat.

The Bad: Hmm, lessee. Okay, got one: Best broke two strings and didn't bring a back-up guitar -- not that it would have fit on stage anyway.

The Verdict: Time to put some of this stuff on disc for the masses, gents.

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