The Whirlwind Excitement of Gogol Bordello Is Hitting SoCal

GOGOL BORDELLO

GOGOL BORDELLO play Observatory/Santa Ana Mar. 2, Observatory/North Park Mar. 3 and The Fonda Theatre Mar. 5; photo Daniel Efram

“Since I was a little baby, I thought I would like to have some kind of Gogol Bordel-lesk type of name; so when I grew up and became a big tall man, I said what could be better than a Gogol Bordel-lesk type of name than Gogol Bordello,” according to Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello.

“We were all winners of an American Idol competition. Except it was from different countries. Like Pedro is the winner of the Latino American Idol competition, Sergei is the winner of the Gypsy Russian American Idol competition. Then a producer put us together and told us all the lines… and here we come. Isn’t it obvious?”

GOGOL BORDELLO

GOGOL BORDELLO; photo Lauren Ratkowski

Armed with a healthy dose of sarcasm, a nine-piece band, and their gypsy punk sound, Gogol Bordello is heading out on tour in support of their recent album Seekers and Finders. And it is impossible to tell what any given show may be like.

“There are no shows that are alike,” explains Hutz. “The people in the band are spontaneous and playful. The gist of it is the band itself, the organism of the band is an improvising type of entity. We have played shows during earthquakes in Japan, and all over the world in all kinds of settings. From jazz festivals to metal festivals.

GOGOL BORDELLO

GOGOL BORDELLO; photo Daniel Efram

“The thing that makes a special show is seeing people’s eyes sparkling. That’s the show – the show is the eye of the audience. And I think the ratio of that in our case is pretty high. You know, there is a cliched saying that the eyes are the windows of the soul; but I think it’s pretty accurate I think. That never gets old.”

Known for their high energy shows for nearly twenty years, Hutz shed some light on how they have gone about this feat.

“There is a figure of speech: How do you capture energy?” mused Hutz “The important thing to understand is we do not capture the energy. We exude the energy. The engineers come and capture the energy. The band can exude energy at any given point in time.

“I like garlic. So like that goes for like everything else in my life. It has to have like that garlic frequency. And it has to remain quite spicy…. Which is why for this record I want to make sure all the spice is there.

GOGOL BORDELLO; photo Lauren Ratkowski

GOGOL BORDELLO; photo Lauren Ratkowski

“My favorite songs to play are when I get drunk and do entire Jesus Christ Superstar by myself. And karaoke by myself. That’s my favorite songs. I do hip-hop style, mumble hip-hop, medieval-pyscho-mumble-billy.”

As for the pre-show rituals the band engages in, Hutz said they decided to use something he learned in his past.

“When I was in the theater I learned a useful tool. Before the show you get to spend time together for sure.‘Cause it’s eight people with diverse moods and backgrounds. So about an hour before the show we start hanging out and not giving each other personal space. And then we do this kind of cathartic group, I guess you call it pyscho-gypsy gymnastics type of a thing. And then off we go. But really, it’s not even necessary. Give me a microphone and I’m ready.”

Gogol Bordello has never been a static band, constantly mutating since their inception.

“It’s always been transforming,” illustrates Huntz. “It started out as a duo, me and an accordion player. It literally snowballed for three or four years to being an eight piece. In fact, I didn’t want it to be a rock band. I wanted it to be a chamber, Tom Waits kind of a thing. And then it got out of control and became this insane orchestra of transplanted souls. And it’s always been shapeshifting ever since.”

Experience the aural feast that is Gogol Bordello when they come to the Observatory / Santa Ana Mar. 2, the Observatory / North Park Mar. 3 or The Fonda Theatre Mar. 5.

One Love Cali Fest Day 1: Good Vibes Aplenty

ATMOSPHERE

ATMOSPHERE; photo Andy Ortega

Arriving at the Queen Mary, it was quickly apparent that the promoters were serious about throwing an epic reggae festival. Even though it was a bit overcast, no one in attendance was going to let that slow them down. The grounds were packed with people milling about, exploring the vendors, and getting familiar with the two stages.

Getting from one stage to another was a fun experience in that you had to cross a bridge or go through a tunnel; this made it almost feel like you were going into a different venue altogether. This also prevented the bands from bleeding into each other’s sets, thankfully while providing room for the myriad of vendors and people milling about.

It seemed that nearly every kind of food could be had: burgers, tacos, vegan, and the list goes on and on. There were also plenty of vendors for smoking enthusiasts showcasing all the varieties of vape juice, papers, and everything else.
Of course, the main draw was the artists.

FORTUNATE YOUTH

FORTUNATE YOUTH; photo Andy Ortega

FORTUNATE YOUTH was one of the earliest acts in the day, and their unique sound got the crowd going. Their bongo player was especially intense, with furious whirlwind hands creating some interesting rhythms. What really stood out was the full band lineup, and the way they used it to create the good vibe sounds people love about reggae.

MATISYAHU; photo Andy Ortega

MATISYAHU; photo Andy Ortega

MATISYAHU also went on early in the day, putting his full weight into bringing his unique vibe to the party. The band was loud, exploring noisy and spacey terrains they have become heralded for. And the steady rhythm section paired with Matisyahu’s signature lyric/writing style created a fascinating wall of sound that got the whole crowd buzzing.

TOMORROW'S BAD SEEDS; photo Andy Ortega

TOMORROW’S BAD SEEDS; photo Andy Ortega

TOMORROW’S BAD SEEDS were a major crowd favorite. Minutes before they took the stage, a chant of “TBS! TBS!” could be heard from many devoted followers. Their upbeat set began, and immediately the whole crowd was moving. The fusion of rock, reggae, punk, and pop was apparent; it also sounded awesome. As they got to their more rock numbers, a mosh pit furiously began becoming tough to avoid. Throughout their set, it was quite a treat to see TBS and the fans feed off each other’s energy. Sadly, it was only a thirty-minute set but was a shining example of the shared camaraderie of this scene.

Then ATMOSPHERE took the stage. As the crowd cheered, lyricist Slug disarmed them by sarcastically clapping and saying “Atmosphere, yay…..” (evoking a number of laughs from the audience).

As the beats rolled out, the crowd began vamping without hesitation. With a trippy projection screen behind them, they laid out their trademark sound and styles. Atmosphere didn’t hold back their darker songs, either. But Slug realized where he was and apologized, stating, “That was a bad vibe song. You’re not supposed to play a bad vibe song at a good vibe show! Here’s a good vibe song.”

Their hour-long set was diverse, with some great melodies and real talk by Slug that showcased why Atmosphere is so legendary.

The Long Beach reggae scene came together as one, and put on one excellent festival. The lineup was diverse, with nearly every permutation of reggae-inspired music on display. Whether you’re a newcomer or a devout fan, the One Love Cali Fest is a great way to get to know this music on a more intimate level.

Expect The Unexpected When Cold Showers Comes To Town

COLD SHOWERS

COLD SHOWERS play SPACE Jan. 18 and The Echo Jan. 19; photo Robbie Simon

Hailing from Highland Park in Los Angeles, Cold Showers has been bringing their singular vision to the world for the last seven years. And remain steadfastly dedicated to that, in both their live shows as well as studio productions.

One of the driving forces behind this is their dedication to perfection. In the words of guitarist Chris King, “I want people to know that when they come to see us, they’re going to see a band that’s…. prepared, for lack of a better word. We put a lot of thought into our live set; we have now like a mix of live instrumentation, and sequenced electronics, and layers of samples.

“I guess the one thing I want people to come away with when they come to a show, is they can hear that thought and detail was put into everything. We aren’t a band that likes to roll out of bed and see how it goes. My personal philosophy is if we don’t think we are about to have the best show we’ve ever had, then we should just stay home.”

It’s also impossible to know what you’re going to hear from them next.

“We are a little more raw live than on the record,” King points out. “We add tons of parts to the songs live that aren’t on the record. ‘Only Human’ has been one of our favorites to play; that’s one where we added stuff, there’s a lot more like noisier guitars and stuff that we do live that isn’t on the record.”

That unpredictability is due to how Cold Showers approaches studio as well as live settings. According to King, “When we write all of our records, ever since the beginning, it’s never been…we never think about how are we going to pull this off live. It’s always writing a record is one process, and let’s make this record as good as possible, no compromises for every single part. When we finish the record, it’s a whole new thing to start figuring out how we are going to do it live…’cause different things work better in the live setting.”

Even those backstage never know what might happen when the band is around. King details one particular reason for that, “I don’t know about the other guys, but I really like to get adrenaline and blood flowing; so I will try to find a spot backstage to shadowbox. It’s a full body exercise and it loosens me up. It looks crazy, I mean I’ve been walked in on. I feel like backstage it’s random people, and it’s definitely embarrassing when it happens, but then I don’t care.”

Yet, even though there is a heavy dose of experimentalism running through their sound, King adamantly cites pop music as being a huge influence on the group.

“Pop music, actually, is what I would say is the most overarching widespread influence over all of us. We’ve always been trying to push I guess how far we could take songs and be experimental; but underneath it all, have pop songs. All of us grew up liking pop music, I grew up loving all the old Phil Spector girl group stuff. And a lot of our favorite bands that are in genres some people would say are closer to us, like postpunk or whatever categories; the best ones, the ones that I listen to that hold up, they wrote pop songs.

“As we have been working these last couple of years on the record, a lot of the things we have been listening to collectively are The Knife which has been a big influence. PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, those really pop up out of my head.”

Cold Showers gaze is firmly fixed on the future, gearing up to hit the road with some surprises in store.

“That’s really the reason for this tour,” King explained. “We wanna try out new songs; we have at least three, hopefully even more that we will have ready to play on the road and test them out. And then bear down in February and March and record a new record.”

See them for yourself, when they play SPACE in San Diego Jan. 18 or The Echo in Los Angeles on Jan. 19.

The Raw Power of Dhani Harrison

Dhani Harrison; photo Andy Ortega

Dhani Harrison; photo Andy Ortega

Dhani Harrison brought a heady mix of noise, psychedelic meanderings, and heavy rock-n-roll to the Constellation Room on Nov. 28. Anyone who came expecting a folk-rock set, a pop concert, or any other pre-conceived notion was in for a surprise.

The band itself was comprised of two guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards. Throughout the set, Harrison also invited a number of different guests on stage with him. There was plenty of hard rock vamping, guitar solos, and what we all love about rock bands; however, many numbers saw Harrison employing a keyboard and/or effects unit to create hypnotic drones. In addition, several instances of experimental feedback looping (the kind seen in modern noise centric bands) was used as well.

Dhani Harrison; photo Andy Ortega

Dhani Harrison; photo Andy Ortega

All of the hard rocking and experimental layers blended beautifully with the melodies and song structures created by Harrison. There were sprinklings of his dad’s influence throughout the set of course (most evident in the vocal inflections of his voice and the use of multi-voiced harmonies.) Yet it was all too evident he has painstakingly crafted a style/sound all his own. The songs had the power pop feel about them, but also a subdued atmosphere of darkness and mystery.

Although he reveled in introducing some songs as “loud,” the set was still an intimate one. That is not to say it was not loud, because it most certainly was. But instead of the volume causing tinnitus, it was that perfect level of loud that helped to convey the intensity of the songs. His other favorite moment seemed to be every time he brought up a special guest, something which happened almost every other song. He addressed the crowd a few times, mostly notably letting everyone know they should continue to “be lovely and be excellent.”

Overall, Harrison did a spectacular job of pulling aspect from every decade of rock since the sixties. There were sixties vocal harmonies, seventies style jamming, post-punk experimentalism, nineties rock riffs, indie rock sounds, electronic drones, and more. All of this was on vivid display during the last song of the encore, as all the guest members piled on stage for a raucous cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges. It took me by complete surprise, and will go down as one of the best show I’ve ever seen.

The Madcap Energy Of The Butcher Babies Arrives In SoCal

BUTCHER BABIES

BUTCHER BABIES play the Observatory Dec. 11; press photo

Now on tour behind their latest release LILITH, L.A. based Butcher Babies are dead set on bringing their unique blend of fierce energy and raw emotion to the world.

Butcher Babies gestated from the friendship between frontwomen Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey, who were in a punk-metal cover band together. In Shepherd’s own words, “Carla and I were in a band together about a decade ago – it was a punk/metal cover band – and we decided that we wanted to start something original and fresh, on our own.

“So, we quit that band and created Butcher Babies as an ode to Wendy O. Williams. She has always been a huge inspiration for us, and we used to cover the song “Butcher Baby,” so we decided to kind of neo-model the band after Wendy O and the Plasmatics. And here we are eight years later.”

Just like their inspiration, Butcher Babies bring a wild show that is strangely addictive.

“It’s just craziness, I guess you could say,” Shepherd explained. “You know, there’s a lot of raw energy that comes from the entire band. It’s not just the two girls up there. We have been a band for eight years and our energy is incredible onstage. The energy is insane.” And there is plenty of what makes a metal show great, i.e. “a lot of crowd surfing, a lot of moshing, a lot of circle pitting.”

Emotional intensity is prominent at shows, especially during the more melodic numbers. Shepherd recalls performing “Thrown Away” (one of her favorites), “It’s all melodic. It’s slow. It’s a beautiful song, but there’s so much emotion that goes through it. It’s really cool seeing the same people who were just throwing down in the pit – they’re in the front row, singing the lyrics. There’s been times where men are crying, singing that song with us. So, it’s a really unique experience to play that song.”

Creating moments of connection with audiences like this is one of their favorite aspects of playing live shows. “The crowds, though, really make it,” Shepherd explains. So is taking the audience for a turbulent ride.

“One of my favorites is “Gravemaker.” I absolutely love that song, and it’s so fun to play. It’s an emotional rollercoaster the whole time.”

This madness begins during the pre-show rituals. “We sacrifice many children,” declares Shepherd. “I’m just kidding. Carla and I like to get ready together, so we will sit in the back of the bus and blast old school hip-hop. And do our make-up together and get dressed. But before we go onstage we have a chant that we do, and we have done it at every single show that we have played.”

That camaraderie is at the core of Butcher Babies. “We all hang out and we are all good friends,” Shepherd revealed.

“We have known each other almost a decade; we go to movies together, we go to bars together…But we all enjoy each other’s company and its actually pleasurable to hang out together.

“I think that’s one thing a lot of bands should do more, if they don’t. Because I think that creates a team mentality, and first and foremost, we’re best friends. And then we’re bandmates. And that is how it has been from the beginning….and so I think that’s been part of our key to success is the fact that we do respect each other.”

An atmosphere like that plays a vital role, both on and off the stage. “It’s hugely important, you know, for the chemistry you have on stage, the chemistry you have in writing music together,” Shepherd said.

“All five of us have a hand in our writing and you want to have that mutual respect for each other when writing because then people aren’t going to feel like….like if you go into a writing session, and someone feels like they can’t speak up because they are embarrassed about sharing their ideas, that is hugely detrimental to the band.”

All of this combines into a heady mix that is Butcher Babies. Having been around for nearly a decade, playing all over the globe, and with three studio albums now under their belt, they are gearing up for even more world domination.

“It’s been a crazy wild eight years,” Shepherd mused.

“We are pumped about the movement of the band and can’t wait to see what the next eight years hold. So, thanks for taking this rollercoaster with us!”

Catch the Butcher Babies playing their last show of the tour, at the Observatory / Santa Ana Dec. 11.

Tom Keifer And His Livewire Rock-N-Roll Come To SoCal

TOM KEIFER

TOM KEIFER plays The Coach House Nov. 12; photo Tammy Vega

High-energy. Dynamic. Fire and brimstone. Visceral. These words help define rock-n-roll, both on and off the stage. Tom Keifer and his band are on course to deliver all of that Nov. 12 at The Coach House.

Keifer sang in the Philly rock group Cinderella, and went on to release a solo album back in 2013 The Way Life Goes. It was a labor of love that took nine years to perfect, and was released to critical acclaim. Unfortunately, some legal trouble caused it to get pulled from the shelf. Simultaneously, Keifer had to have voice surgery which caused delays in touring/recording schedules.

All of that is overwhelming, but a recurring theme in rock-n-roll is perseverance through struggle. And without a doubt, he is a shining example. Keifer fought for and obtained the masters to The Way Life Goes – the deluxe version of the album (with the bonus of a few new tracks) was just released and he is currently on tour in support of it.

Heading to one of his shows, Keifer says to expect “a high-energy, loud screaming rock show; it’s a rock-n-roll show” complete with Cinderella classics as well as the tracks from his solo outing.

“I’ve always really liked playing “Nobody’s Fool” live, that one always feels good to me and I like singing,” Keifer said. “Out of the new stuff, lately we’ve been doing the title track, that one has been fun. There’s a couple there I’ve been having fun with, singing and playing.”

TOM KEIFER

TOM KEIFER and band; photo Tammy Vega

While the album was made over several years, the touring band has remained constant.

“When I started touring the record, it’s pretty much been with the first people that walked in the room the first night,” Keifer explained. “With the exception of this year, we have a new drummer and a new keyboard player, which was our first member change. Much like the first auditions, the two new guys were the first ones who walked in the room. It’s all been pretty effortless, and the chemistry has been great from the get-go.”

This chemistry even continues off-stage.

“On tours I have done before this band, everyone kind of stays to themselves, and watches movies, and there’s lots of distractions of different kinds of entertainment going on,” Keifer divulged. “But honestly with this band, every night we just get together and hang out and talk.”

Being a mainstay of the rock world for over two decades, Keifer has a unique perspective on the ongoing debate over rock being at death’s door.

“That question always comes up, if it’s not in vogue, say in certain media outlets or radio formats, then oh, its dying,” Keifer explained. “But as long as it’s being created, and it’s being enjoyed by the fans and the people out there, then it’s alive.”

Thus, Keifer remains determined as ever to continue bringing rock music to his fans.

“Playing live is my favorite part of what we do, it’s great to get out there and play live and share that moment in the music with the fans,” he remarked.

“I get nervous every night, brother, as long as I’ve been doing this. I love what I do, and I want to be, you know, give it my all every night. My main instrument, being my voice, it’s flesh and blood.”

All in all, Tom Keifer is amped for his dates on the west coast, commenting, “We are out rocking and love seeing everybody at the shows.”