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Mod for the holidays

Three bands explore in '60s and '70s in the darkest time of year

Darby Picnic, one of three bands playing this Saturday, mix psych and power pop to great effect. Photo credit: Facebook

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The holidays can be a tough time for a lot of people, especially in the chilly, perpetual darkness of a Pacific Northwest winter. This article hits the streets Dec. 21, the winter solstice; frequently, the solstice is referred to as the shortest day of the year, but it might be more accurate to think of it as the longest night. The city gets quieter, the temperatures are unforgiving, and people continue to give in to the temptation of hibernation, shutting out the world near the end of a particularly difficult year. As hard as it can be, though, I'm of the opinion that getting out and experiencing the warmth and light of company, however you can, is an incredibly important tactic in fending off winter doldrums -- it'll help you to carry the thought that, as short as the days are now, that only means we've entered the period where they begin to get longer once again.

For their part, three bands are getting together to put on a show this Saturday at the Swiss, filling the room with good vibes and loud sounds as they do. All three bands draw from the bright, effervescently offbeat music of late ‘60s pop and early ‘70s pop, in various ways. First up, we've got Darby Picnic, the latest project from longtime Washington musician Lee Gregory. Formed in 2014, with their debut show in January 2016, Darby Picnic's a bit of a new band, though the musicians taking part carry with them decades of experience. Made up of Gregory, Kent Beatty, Mark Thomas, Terry Hickey and Rickie Ray Heinzman, the group refers to their sound as "post-medieval psychedelia," which is an odd descriptor, but might be right on the money.

Mixing sun-dappled psych with boisterous power pop, Darby Picnic create an aura of welcoming energy that draws the listener in. "Heaven" is a drifting piece of chiming, sumptuous music that recalls those days when Americana artists like Tom Petty had forays with electronica. "Belly of the Beast," with its pastoral psych-pop, is a neat match for songs when alt-rock pranksters Ween abandoned irony in favor of sincerity. Whatever form Darby Picnic present themselves, though, they have a tendency to exude a gravitational pull.

Next up are local favorites Strangely Alright, who draw inspiration more from the glam side of the ‘60s and ‘70s rock equation than Darby Picnic. Their recently released single, "All of Us Are Strange," almost gleefully cribs from the playbook of David Bowie, with theatrical, Bowie-indebted vocals from Regan Lane, and a message that espouses the virtues of being weird in a world that doesn't always welcome that. Strangely Alright is comprised of Lane, Sean Van Dommelen, Troy Moss, Ken Schaff, Raymond Hayden and Jason Blair. Like Darby Picnic, they also indulge in referencing the music of late-period Beatles, creating upbeat tunes that have a definite haze fogging up the head. This is brightly colorful pop with a sharp, sardonic edge.

Finally, we have Avengers UK, a band that helpfully lets you know that their minds are set on the British spy TV show from the ‘60s, not the Marvel supergroup we're inundated with now. The outfit consists of Steve Senna, Tod Sharon, James Cook and Jeff Noyes, and their focus is on the British Invasion. I normally don't write about cover bands, but I'd happily come in from the cold with the possibility of hearing some Herman's Hermits, the Hollies, or the Dave Clark Five. Fifteen percent of the show's proceeds will go to Northwest Battle Buddies, a nonprofit that provides service animals to veterans with PTSD - as if the music weren't enough of a reason to go.

Darby Picnic w/ Strangely Alright, Avengers UK, 9 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 23, $10, The Swiss, 1904 S. Jefferson Ave., Tacoma, 253.572.2821,

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