Modest Mouse Bares It Soul At HOB

MODEST MOUSE; photo Lauren Ratkowski

MODEST MOUSE; photo Lauren Ratkowski

At precisely 8:01pm on this particular night, I found myself walking briskly through the pristine, still newly constructed halls of House of Blues Anaheim, concert ticket clutched firmly in hand. As I neared the corner, the unmistakable sound of a crowd “whoo-ing” at the dimming of overhead lights bounced off the walls and into my ears. And thus the signal to quicken my pace had been received. My fast walk evolved into a light jog, my mind and body both determined to bask in the music of the opening band, Morning Teleportation, as soon as possible.

I stand by that light jog; I enjoyed every single second of their performance. Mind you, I do not get to say that about an opening band very often. I also do not think the audience was prepared for how much they would feel that way, as well. It seemed like every song was met with people turning to other people, with bemused excitement, to express at how good it was. Considering how deftly the band mixes funk with psychedelia and 90’s alt rock, one shouldn’t be surprised. For the resulting mixtures are some of the most inventive, viscerally dynamic compositions I’ve ever had the pleasure of dancing to.

MORNING TELEPORTATION; photo Lauren Ratkowski

MORNING TELEPORTATION; photo Lauren Ratkowski

Kicking things off with the titular song of their debut album, Expanding Anyways, the band successfully set the tone for the unexpected. The song floated wearily into existence, the pitter patter of a ride cymbal was soon met with an ethereal, spacey, echoey guitar. Together these sounds filled the bated air, and for a moment, we were all floating above ourselves. Whatever lightness of being that this effect inspired, was suddenly undercut by Tiger Merritt’s sporadic, lightning fast melody. Bursting to the brim with words and concepts, I could barely keep up with him as he spouted on about the universe, and love, and who knows what. But that’s the beauty of this band; I don’t quite understand what is happening to my brain when I listen to them, but I know that I like it.

One moment they are telling my body to sway gently in the audial breeze, the very next I am compelled to bang my head and swing my arms with no regard for those around me. They’ll hit you with hip-thrusting funk right before they melt your mind with a psychedelic breakdown. Their disregard for any kind of song structure often gave way to otherworldly jam sessions, in which every member solos at the same time. Somehow, I expect through magic of some kind, these jams were never muddied by the simultaneous virtuosity. Instead they took on the form of a sonic wall, engineered to perfection by the House of Blue’s staff. They also saw to it that the band had a fully choreographed light show, which only enhanced the band’s welcomed assault on the mind. You don’t see too many opening bands with light shows; one might say they’ve earned it.

MORNING TELEPORTATION; photo Lauren Ratkowski

MORNING TELEPORTATION; photo Lauren Ratkowski

Never once addressing the crowd beyond a “thank you,” their stage presence was somewhat mystical. Their collective composure never rose above a cool and collected swagger, as though they could play their set in their sleep. In my eyes, this dissonance between their collectedness as a band and the mayhem of their music puts them squarely within the definition of rock stars. Whatever we see when we know a band’s “got it,” I can tell you with confidence that nearly every person in that room saw it in Morning Teleportation.

With the audience loosened up and ready to go, people were basically frothing at the mouth when the lights dimmed once more in anticipation of Modest Mouse.

MODEST MOUSE; photo Lauren Ratkowski

MODEST MOUSE; photo Lauren Ratkowski

They took the stage amidst a deafening crowd, each person trying to out-whoo the person next to them. This went on all night, really. Everyone in that crowd was apparently very stoked to be a part of that crowd. This infectious, radiant energy envelopes my memories of the night. I can still hear the impassioned cheering ringing in my ears.

Thankfully, said cheering was not let forth in vain. It was certainly well deserved, as the band made their way through a decades-spanning set with the ease, purpose, and skill of accomplished professionals. The extent of their catalogue was not lost on them, opting to play some older favorites (“Missed the Boat” and “I Came as a Rat”) before they touched any material off their latest album. Older songs were mixed evenly, consciously, with the new. While they shied away from playing songs with the most radio time — such as “Float On” or “The World at Large” — it didn’t feel wrong. It felt right to give way to deeper cuts in favor of overplayed singles that don’t define the band by any means. I imagine those songs are a bit like how “Creep” is to Radiohead. At a certain point, no one expects to hear that song at their concerts, in spite of how foundational it was to their current status. But honestly, everyone there was such a die-hard, I don’t think it mattered for a single moment.

MODEST MOUSE; photo Lauren Ratkowski

MODEST MOUSE; photo Lauren Ratkowski

In addition to knowing what songs to play, more importantly, they know how to play them. At various points throughout the night, they brought out a banjo, an upright bass, a violin, and a cowbell, depending on what the timbre of the song demanded. As a result, the production of each song felt greatly deliberated. There was a clear effort to bring the songs into as full an existence as humanly possible. Many of the musicians were multi-instrumentalists, allowing for seamless transitions between songs, and for me personally, a definite awe-factor. It’s not every show you get to see someone shred on trumpet, then hop on the piano, only to follow it up with some backup percussion.

But really, everyone on that stage bared their soul to the world, merged with their instrument, etc. Every single song was played as though tomorrow was already gone. At the epicenter of the band’s primal energy was Isaac Brock. He was a maestro of madness, with his unique brand of rap-singing delivered with such raw intensity, I got the feeling that he deliberately bottles up his emotions between shows, so as to make sure we leave those shows feeling invigorated by his gushing release. And while one could barely understand what the hell he was yelling about, it didn’t matter. What mattered was the feeling of being there in that room, of being a thread in a thriving, thrashing tapestry of emotional and musical release.

Orchestrated Chaos With Fu Manchu

FU MANCHU

FU MANCHU play The Wayfarer Jun. 10; photo courtesy of Scott Reeder

Stoner rock legends Fu Manchu have been cranking out crunchy, raunchy, gut-punching music for over 27 years now. Their expansive catalogue is chock full of riffs that inspire breaking speed limits and furniture, and has undoubtedly been the soundtrack to countless nights of debauchery and mayhem. And now, after three years, the band is gearing up to add some more weapons to their sonic assault, and more reasons to grow out your hair and bang your head aggressively.

On the figurative eve of this new album, the band will take the stage in the small, intimate, hipster room that is The Wayfarer in Costa Mesa on June 10. If you know anything about this band’s stage presence, you know that it’s a powerhouse of intense, bursting energy. With solos that melt your face off your face, drums that throttle your limbs to exhaustion, and vocals that bring the thrashing punk out of us all, the band is set to shake the little Wayfarer to its foundations.

Speaking about the new album, as well as his views on music and art in general, drummer Scott Reeder checked in for a quick chat in advance of their upcoming show.

CONCERT GUIDE LIVE: Your last album came out in 2014. Which begs the question, is anything currently in the works? Is this a typical amount of time between records for you guys?
SCOTT REEDER: Well, it’s not like we’ve been sitting around for three years. This year we actually had to kind of go, ‘Ok, we’re not playing any shows, we have to focus on doing an album’. You know, because once you start playing shows, you gotta rehearse, and it’s a whole switching gears thing. But it’s actually worked out, because we have kind of like a special thing that we’re trying to get done with this record. We’re trying to do something – it’s nothing huge – and I don’t really want to reveal anything yet on it…

CGL: But it’s something different?
SR: Yeah, it’s something different for us. And if we can pull it off… we were actually supposed to start recording tomorrow. But we pushed it back because the facilities weren’t exactly what we wanted for right now. You know, all the minutiae. It’s hard to find that kind of shit.

CGL: Well, attention to detail is what makes a good album though.
SR: Well yeah, but we’re hoping to get all this stuff done by June and have the record out in October. And then be doing the States and then Europe, the whole thing that we usually do.

CGL: So, could we expect to hear any of these new songs at The Wayfarer?
SR: Hmmmm… Maybe… It’s a possibility… (laughs). I’m always up for doing that. It’s just – whether the singer can remember the new words. Which really doesn’t matter, because no one knows the words anyways. But yeah, I’m pretty sure we’ll play some new stuff. That’s pretty much all we’ve been rehearsing is all the new stuff.

CGL: You mentioned earlier that you don’t think there’s a place for acoustic music in Fu Manchu, because that’s not what people want to hear from your band. Does this mean that you guys write music with the feedback from fans in mind?
SR: Ahhhh… no, we really don’t write for the fans. It’s more for us. Because you can never go like, ‘Oh people will like this’. You have to be stoked on shit first before other people can get stoked on it. You can’t just play stuff you don’t like and be all, ‘Well, we’re gonna play this because we know people will like it’.

CGL: Yeah, that’s not what art is really about…
SR: Well, I’m not an artist. I don’t paint houses. I play drums. C’mon. The whole artist thing is a little bit overblown, I think. ‘Oh, I’m an artist’. Oh, you’re an artist? What, you play with clay, and sculptures and all that shit? ‘No, I play drums’. C’mon.

Fu Manchu

Fu Manchu

CGL: Okay, so then what do you consider art to be?
SR: It’s sort of in the eye of the beholder I suppose. If people want to label it that, they can. But from my perspective… I think it’s people trying to put a higher meaning on what they do. You can do that. But it’s subjective. People are the ones who put the meaning on what you do. They put the meaning on it by relating it to their experiences and common experiences that everybody has. So, in that sense, you listen to something and go like, ‘Oh man, this guy thinks the same that I do,’ or, ‘He says that thing that I’m trying to say, that I can’t say. And it makes me feel good because I feel like he gets me’.

And that’s really what makes community, I think. So, I guess if we were involved in any kind of community it would be like, we do the thing that we do and I guess we have to like it before anyone else does. So, in that sense, we are connected to other people who like our music.

All Them Witches Let Loose

ALL THEM WITCHES

ALL THEM WITCHES play The Roxy May 12, The Constellation Room May 13, The Casbah May 14; photo Paul Harries

When you witness the musical tour de force that is an All Them Witches performance, what you’re really witnessing is four men transcending the earthly realm through the gateway of their music.

Often embarking on mind expanding solos and tangential jams, their songs never exist the same way twice. A feat that really only works when the whole band is working as one, eyes closed, heads down, bodies in intimate, wordless communication.

Lead by bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks Jr., he and his bandmates write songs of a uniquely psychedelic nature, ones that beg for us to join them in that alternate plane of existence.

With their latest release Sleeping Through The War, our minds are primed to wander as we are immersed in an ocean of reverb, weird echo delays, and chest-rumbling fuzz. But just as the metaphor implies, their music plays out in waves of sonic dynamics. One moment, you’re floating through hypnotic, calming waters, and the next, you’re thrashing amongst the waves of a musical hurricane.

But the album isn’t just a variety of sounds and vibrations. As the title implies, the album is also an exploration of the current world order. And while many of the lyrics are deliberately open ended, you get the impression that Parks and co. are concerned about the current trajectory of the human race.

And so when Parks sat down for an interview with Concert Guide Live, just a couple days before All Them Witches embark on a 17-date tour, the focus was about the nature of musical expression. How can music wake up those who are sleeping through the war? Is there a definite purpose to music? Find out what Parks has to say below, in an excerpt from a stimulating, rant-filled conversation about the importance of music.

CONCERT GUIDE LIVE: Your latest album is very much in conversation with politics and society. Have you always seen music as more than just feeling vibrations? When did you realize you could use it to spread and talk about important ideas?
CHARLES MICHAEL PARKS JR.: I think maybe when people started really showing up to our concerts and I realized that all of these people had made the same decision all at the same time. They made a decision to end up at that place with all of these other people to do the same activity. And that’s when I realized, “Oh, that’s the power of music. It gets people to the same place using the same words but being interpreted in different ways.” So that’s really powerful to me.

CGL: Do you see music as a form of activism then? In that it has this power to unite people?
CMPJ: I feel like music can be a form of activism. But you have to use some of the guidelines of — I don’t want to say the enemy — but, I feel like advertising is kind of the enemy of music. Everything is about mind control and money. And music is the opposite, right? It’s about how you feel, and how you relate that to the world. But advertising and music have become the same thing over time. You have to build a brand for yourself. It’s what all the people have been rebelling against for so long. You know, “don’t put me in a fucking box.”

But I don’t need to be mass marketed, I don’t need to trick people into liking me. I’ve always said that as our music changes, people are willing to come and go. And that’s fine, people can think whatever they want about my music, and take what they need from it and leave. So, yeah, I feel like it can be a form of activism.

But at the same time, you can’t just fall into the same thing that Dylan or Hendrix were doing. Because what they were doing was being kids and living and singing how it related to them. You have to hide it now. You have to make people think that they thought of it.

And that’s what I mean when I say you have to pull from advertising. You have to get people to come up with the idea for themselves. You can’t give it to them because nobody cares about that. In an age of internet and instant gratification, you can find whatever answer you’re looking for at the click of a button. Information is killing us because it’s just made us completely apathetic. We have all of the information and we don’t know how to process it. People only stick to an idea if they think they came up with it.

CGL: Is this album about that? Is it your way of using music to “inception” people with ideas?
CMPJ: Well, I’m just trying to be honest with my feelings. Which I think is not really done a lot. It’s hidden in a machismo kind of way for guys, and I don’t want to be a part of that. I don’t want to identify — I mean, I do identify with every guy in a lot of ways — but I’m tired of the bullshit macho stuff. It’s unnecessary, it’s a facade.

In doing that, I have to be able to use my emotions and use sadness and be able to be honest about those things, that I can feel those things. And of course everybody feels it whether they want to admit it or not. And if you don’t, you need to. You need to cry, you need to actually feel something. So that’s all I’m doing.

When I get on stage, that’s my safe place. It doesn’t matter how many people are in front of me. I get to let loose. I’ll dance and jump around and yell, which I wouldn’t normally do in everyday life. That’s my spot to be like, “Here’s me. Here I am. Here’s all my friends, and this is what we do. And this is how we feel about it.” And then the lyrics are just open to interpretation. Because if you get the feeling, you’re going to get some kind of hint of the meaning.

All Them Witches will be sharing their music at The Roxy May 12, The Constellation Room May 13 and The Casbah May 14.

The Babys Pick Up Where They Left Off

The Babys

The Babys

British rock band The Babys played what would be their last concert together 37 years ago. At a certain point, and most certainly after three decades, one just has to accept that a band is dead and gone. That is, except when it comes to a band like The Babys.

Original members Wally Stocker (guitar) and Tony Brock (drums) showed us three years ago that the band never really died in the first place with the release of I’ll Have Some of That signaling a booming reunion of Britain’s premiere group of musical “infants.” Although, if you’ve ever seen them play, you’d know the name is more ironic than anything. While the band definitely has their softer moments, their shows are famous for rocking and shredding your mind and body into exhaustion.

After splitting up in 1980, leaving a number of successful singles such as “Isn’t It Time” and “Everytime I Think Of You” in their wake, each member went on to play in other groups. Stocker and Brock found themselves playing with the likes of Rod Stewart, Elton John, and Air Supply for several years, while bassist/vocalist John Waite ended up establishing a fairly successful solo career. Whichever the case, it is clear that music never left their lives. So that it seems only natural that The Babys would return in some form or another.

Sitting down to speak about the band that won’t die, and the music that lives on, Stocker was kind enough to share his thoughts in a recent interview with Concert Guide Live.

It began, perhaps unavoidably, with the topic of The Babys’ return to music. The idea, it turns out, had been “bouncing around” for years between him and Brock. And John Waite (vocals/bass) had been onboard from the beginning, the reunion would have happened much sooner. He explained this not with any hard feelings, mind you, but with a calm understanding. “He had his own thing going on,” says Stocker. But what really struck me about the whole story was the bond between Brock and Stocker.

“He’s been one of my best friends for over 40 years,” says Stocker as he describes how they would often meet up to hang out and play music over the years. This undeniable musical and personal connection was the foundation upon which the band’s reformation would take place. After finding a replacement for Waite in the skills and passion of John Bisaha, and an additional guitarist by the name of Joey Sykes, the two were ready to bring The Babys back to life.

The Babys

THE BABYS play The Coach House Apr. 29; press photo

As he talked of being back in the studio, I likened the experience to slipping into an old pair of shoes. To which he happily responded, “absolutely,” all but making audible the smile on his face. Although, in spite of this metaphorical footwear, the recording process of their latest album could not escape from certain shades of the unfamiliar. Unlike the good ol’ days, where the band could write at their leisure, this time around came with a deadline of eight weeks. When converted to studio minutes, which accounts for the temporal consequences of entering the timeless, selfless state in which music is written, this really becomes not a whole lot of time.

But Stocker explained with a quiet confidence that the band was “able to put it on the back burner” throughout the recording process. In fact, the focus required to meet this deadline ended up enhancing the performance of the band. As Stocker puts it, “we were all kind of at our best,” as they clocked in up to 16 hours a day of studio time. Being able to sit down and do anything for that many hours is not easy. And so I listened to this story with reverence for their passion and professionalism, in silent awe at the pure musical force that the band represents. Especially considering how “each member is a songwriter.” Amongst all four of them, “there were about 35 songs that [were] whittled down to about 18 or so.” From there, the guys picked 12 to flesh out and turn into finished pieces.

These songs by no means were picked at random; Stocker was quite clear about the vision behind the album that these songs would become. He felt as though they had an “identity” to uphold, a duty to “pick up where [they] left off.” He and Brock had no intentions of letting the date on a calendar influence their music, no desire to come out “sounding completely new.” In other words, they were going to stay true to their roots, both for themselves but also for the fans.

That is because The Babys love their fans. When asked about his feelings towards performing live, Stocker speaks with a fond reverence as he describes “looking up to see the audience smiling” while on stage. “That’s what it’s all about,” he says, “opening up that connection.” And that is said in regards to no setting in particular. For the venues the band play today are quite different from the ones back in their heyday. As an opening band for a slew of big names back in the late 70’s, “[The Babys] were playing stadium shows every night.” Nowadays, they find themselves playing inside actual rooms, a contrast which may seem discouraging to some.

But Stocker and Co. are not concerned with basking in the glory of a stadium rock show. Even when that’s exactly what they were doing, I get the sense that it was never really about that; it was always about the music. In fact, he outright says, “I would be dead without music.” He describes it as though it flows through his veins, more essential to his health than his own blood. This, my dear readers, is what a true musician sounds like. And I have no doubt that his bandmates share the same musical vigor.

Do yourself a favor and experience it in person. They’ll be stopping by The Coach House Apr 29. Tickets are still available, so don’t miss out!

Cherry Glazerr Debauched The Constellation Room

Cherry Glazerr

Cherry Glazerr; photo Lauren Ratkowski

Let’s get one thing straight: Cherry Glazerr fans absolutely, passionately, aggressively love Cherry Glazerr. That was certainly the theme last Friday night at The Constellation Room. That is, if you would call a never-ending stream of flailing limbs, banging heads, and crowd-surfing hooligans, love. I’ll use that word for now, but it was more like the souls of every teenager in the room were possessed by a ravenous lust for the gritty, groovy, rampaging pulse of Cherry Glazerr’s music.

But before I expand on that madness, I feel obligated to shine at least some of the spotlight on the opening bands. First off, it hardly even feels appropriate to label them as “openers.” Both Ian Sweet and Lala Lala played more like “co-headliners.”

You wouldn’t think three people could make so much noise, but the complex rhythms, engulfing reverb, and impassioned screaming of Ian Sweet was enough musical energy to fill a stadium. It was obvious that this band truly believes in the music they make, and so it was actually really odd that the crowd barely moved at all. From their stage presence alone, I expected more of a reaction. The band provided plenty of opportunities for people to go nuts. So, don’t be surprised if you show up to their headlining show at the Bootleg Theater Apr. 12, to find a room full of people doing just that.

Up next were Lala Lala, a group of gals from Chicago who are apparently on a mission to redefine garage rock. Singing into a microphone equipped with reverb and a digital harmonizer, the vocal melodies came out sounding like a group of women singing from inside a dark cave. When combined with frantic, specifically syncopated drumming, and perfectly punctuated bass lines, the resulting wall of sound stood towering over the crowd.

Having never been to a Cherry Glazerr show, and having just witnessed a vast discrepancy between the energy of the performance and the energy of the crowd, I really did not expect anything much. But as soon as the band walked on stage, I could feel that expectation beginning to crumble in the face of reality. The mania broke out almost immediately; the switch had been flipped.

By the time the band got to the chorus of their first song, the middle of the room had erupted into chaos. If you didn’t want to get swept away by the current, you had to stand on the very outskirts of the room, with all the parents who had let their children come on one condition. And even then, you couldn’t really escape the impacts of the incessant bodily collisions. It didn’t even seem to matter if the song was fast or slow, from their first album, or their latest album, Apocalipstick. The crowd ate it all up in one bite, without chewing.

Also, rather than glaze over it, I’d like to briefly touch on that whole “a lot of parents were there” situation. It was like the mean age of the crowd was 17, which definitely explains how a crowd can lose their minds and bodies for an entire set of songs. That there is a young man’s game. So too was the general level of debauchery within the room. Throughout the show, people threw water bottles, crashed into one another, jumped on stage and danced like they owned the place. And so I actually appreciated the youthfulness of the crowd. It brought a vigorous fervor to the show, and truly elevated it to new heights. For the energy of the crowd only further impassioned the band, creating this feedback loop of perpetual force. How the roof of The Constellation Room did not cave in and collapse, I still don’t know.

Founding member and singer/guitarist Clementine Creevy was both a part of, but also in control of this chaos. She commanded us all to move with her as her body often shook violently with the beat, her hands gripping the guitar like a weapon. All the while, she never let her antics compromise her performance. But it seemed effortless, as though the songs were born in the chaos. She often wandered to the side of the stage, or behind a curtain, her back turned to the audience, her head down, eyes closed, and her entire being ensnared by the magnetic pull of her music, I imagined her playing just as passionately in a room all by herself. Like the crowd, she too was possessed, as she led her band through the set basically without even stopping. It was as though her soul wouldn’t let her sacrifice the musical momentum for in-between-song banter. And boy did the band follow right behind her.

Although, “follow” is probably the wrong word. The whole band played as one, riding the same musical wave in unison as they crashed against the crowd, over and over and over again. Drummer Tabor Allen was a particular sight to behold. Bursting with a seemingly infinite amount of unstoppable energy, he played every song like it was his last. I seriously cannot stress enough how impressive his stamina was. He left it all out on the stage that night, as I’m sure he does every night.

The band had so completely decimated the audience that when they left the stage for the customary “encore chants,” the room fell ironically silent. You would’ve thought the whole place would immediately erupt into “whoop’s” and “one more songs.” But it was like the crowd was shocked they even had to ask, operating under the impression that their ceaseless dancing was all the encore chant they needed. When the band returned, they proceeded to squeeze every last ounce of juice left in the weary bodies of their audience. And so I left the show half-expecting a plaque to be placed on the wall in commemoration of the experience, and its refusal to stop dancing wildly, vividly in my mind.

Starry Nites Music And Arts Festival: DAY TWO (2017)

MICHAEL & THE MACHINES

MICHAEL & THE MACHINES at Starry Nites Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

Yawning and stretching out of the tent for day two of the Starry Nites Music And Arts Festival, I was greeted cheerily by my fellow campers. This was by no means out of the ordinary, for throughout the weekend, I would experience nothing but friendly kindness from those around me. There were never any bad or uncomfortable vibes, no violence or douchebaggery. Even the security guards joked around and seemed truly glad to be keeping us safe.

Also, to my welcome surprise, we the people were even given a chance to show how talented we are. Sponsored by Roland, a “jam tent” had been erected and filled with every conventional instrument you could want to play. And many of the people who did play were downright excellent. Playing covers, jamming the blues in the key of E, everybody seemed to always be having a good time.

SKY PARADE

SKY PARADE at Starry Nites Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

I even hopped on drums for a few songs, and let me tell you, going from spectating to actually playing music is just about as immersed as you can be at music festival. I sincerely wish every festival provided this opportunity, and I hope this one will continue to do so. It made for a truly cherished and unique experience.

Okay, so back to the bands at hand. One band I must absolutely address was the very first one to play that perfectly sunny, Sunday morning, and they go by the name of MY DALLAS TEENS. Performing on the stage reserved for lesser-known acts, the band performed on a small little platform amongst some patchy grass behind the jam tent area. The whole area made it feel like being at a local backyard show down the street from your friend’s house. However, I like to think this was done deliberately, as the humble setting ended up setting the stage for an alarming contrast. The bands here played with such raw talent and intensity that their stage presence exploded well beyond the confines of the “backyard” they were in. As I stood in intimate witness of this energy, it felt like being at a series of exclusive warm up shows for a group of festival headliners.

LEVITATION ROOM

LEVITATION ROOM at Starry Nites Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

My Dallas Teens seemed determined to leave it all on the stage. Whisking us away on a series of mystifying solos, hard, dirty, groovy, psychedelic rhythms, the musical journey was like a shot of espresso to the senses. Even when they played their softer songs, the wall of sound they created was so complete and enveloping, that it was as captivating as it was relaxing. Without a CD or any merch, this band is at the beginning of what I expect to be a fruitful and joyous endeavor. Keep an eye out for these folks.

One after another, the bands at this stage played as though to outdo one another. MICHAEL & THE MACHINES, LEVITATION ROOM, AND JESIKA VON RABBIT all brought their unique brands of escapism to our eager ears. At the end of my stay here at this stage, I walked away knowing these bands would soon be melting minds on the main stage.

JESIKA VON RABBIT

JESIKA VON RABBIT at Starry Nites Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

I was especially impressed by the onstage antics of Jesika Von Rabbit’s dancers, who came out half naked and donning realistic masks of Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. The image of Donald Trump wearing a bra and pantyhose is just so gleefully bizarre that I would be remiss if I had not mentioned it. Thanks for the strangeness, Jesika. And thanks for combining that strangeness with powerfully groovy music.

Back at the main stages, I was waiting eagerly for LUMERIANS when all of a sudden, the lights went out completely. Right away, I knew something was up. Until now, none of the other acts performed in complete darkness, so my mind was primed for the unexpected. Even then, I was still surprised to see four hooded figures walking out from the darkness of the backstage. Amidst the “ooo’s” of the crowd, purple lights began to shine their way into a dim existence, revealing a band wearing cloaks made entirely of sequined material. As each member looked up, our eyes met not with their faces, but with the haunting glow of red LEDs affixed to pitch black masks. Sensual discombobulation was complete; my body was ready for takeoff.

The band didn’t waste any time, splitting the cool night air with an enveloping fuzz and insatiable rhythm, catapulting my body and mind into the depths of musical bliss and beyond. The whole set played out like a dream, with each song more engaging than the last. Their jams seemed to go on for hours, the repetition of their chord structures masked by the truly epic soundscaping and dynamic chemistry of the band. Thankfully, I found a group of people just as captivated as I was and we proceeded to spin and thrash and march around like we were possessed. Even Jesika Von Rabbit jumped in for a mosh or two, elbowing me firmly in the arm, which all but commanded me to lose myself in danceful worship.

ASTEROID

ASTEROID at Starry Nites Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

I must say, Lumerians were far and away the trippiest, cosmically insane band to play the whole weekend. They uprooted my entire being from reality and threw it into another dimension. That may sound like just a bunch of fancy talk, but don’t let it fool you into thinking it is mere exaggeration. These guys were the real deal, and they deserve your presence should you ever get the opportunity. Believe me, you won’t remember your name or know what year it is by the time they walk off the stage. In a good way.

It being a Sunday night, the three hour drive back home was beginning to loom over me as I waited for the headlining act, the ALAN PARSONS LIVE PROJECT. It had apparently loomed over others even more, with the crowd thinning out to maybe just a couple hundred people. To think I was considering walking alongside those deserters, what a fool. What ended up happening was beyond words, really. The music that Alan Parsons played with his band was so spectacularly performed that I found myself lost in awe and ecstasy long after the show had already ended.

ALAN PARSONS LIVE PROJECT

ALAN PARSONS LIVE PROJECT at Starry Nites Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

Having heard earlier that he worked as a sound engineer for Abbey Road and Dark Side of the Moon, I had expected the music to be good. But as an ignorant millennial, I had never even heard of Alan’s name, let alone the music from his project. So I really did not expect it to be so good that I would find myself declaring the band to be the most impressive and entrancing performance of the whole festival. I was just so magnificently wrong.

Setting up microphones for each member of the 8-piece band, the vocal harmonies were angelic choruses, touching on every sonic frequency that my brain could physically process. And not only could they all sing like demigods, but they’re command of each respective instrument was staggering. Here are men who have been dedicated to music for decades, and it showed. As I found out first hand, Alan Parsons had composed many taut, intricate, syncopated, booming, larger than life songs throughout his career, and so it was only natural that he chose only the best of the best to bring those songs to life. With flawless sound engineering, a captivating light show, and a performance worthy of Wembley Stadium, my time at the Starry Nites Music And Arts Festival ended with a magnificent, resounding boom.

Having spent a weekend reveling in the sounds of music, dancing amongst the trees, stars, and fresh mountain air, I can tell you with smiling confidence that the good people of Desert Stars Festival & Starry Records knew exactly what they were doing.

Starry Nites Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

Starry Nites Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

Aside from a few technical hiccups here and there, which are to be expected, the whole festival experience was a joyous journey of music, nature, and comradery. And in spite of it now being reduced to an afterthought, just know that the choice of food trucks was also very much on point. Just, delicious. Also, in regards to the surprisingly meager attendance, I expect that this is just the beginning of something big. The groundwork has been laid, and I would not be surprised to see this festival grow to great heights in the years to come.

Starry Nites Music And Arts Festival: DAY ONE (2017)

Starry Nites Music And Arts Festival

Starry Nites Music And Arts Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

Tucked away in the mountains of Santa Barbara, far from the hum of a freeway or a room made of drywall, the Starry Nites Music And Arts Festival sought to remove us from the toil and tussle of city life, and free us from the endless barrage of responsibilities and thoughts and stress that seem inescapably bound to leading a “normal” lifestyle. Out here, in the unity and peace of nature, all you had to worry about was breathing, and the band schedule. For all intents and purposes, the festival took place in its own plane of existence, a sort of Eden for music. And so it seems only fitting then that the music was just as transportive, featuring a lineup of artists who seemed hand chosen for mental escapism.

DOWN DIRTY SHAKE

DOWN DIRTY SHAKE at Starry Nites Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

The first of these bands that I made it in time to see was DOWN DIRTY SHAKE, a psychedelic soul-rock jam band from San Francisco. Staying true to these genre descriptors, their performance was a feast for the mind. With two drummers, maracas, tambourines, and an extremely involved bassist, the enveloping pulse of their rhythm section set the backdrop for some truly explorative melodies and solos. Although they played to an audience of maybe a hundred people, it could not have mattered any less if they had played the Staples Center, or a basement. Eyes closed, bodies moving to the beat, they played as though for no other reason than to unleash the flow of music from within.

ELVIS DEPRESSEDLY

ELVIS DEPRESSEDLY at Starry Nites Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

On the heels of this performance was the decidedly different, though no less immersive, ELVIS DEPRESSEDLY. Gone were the two drummers, or even just one drummer, with the band’s lo-fi, home-grown style being better served by a drum track. There is a quiet beauty to their brand of melancholic indie pop. Their setlist was a calming musical river, comprised of short songs with fluid melodies, carrying you gently down an ethereal stream of thoughts and impressions. I also distinctly remember the lower, bass frequencies being turned all the way up, so that my whole body would vibrate with each note. For this I have to commend the sound engineers, for it only further served to cradle my mind as I floated along.

KOLARS

KOLARS at Starry Nites Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

Up next was the disco-rock duo by name of KOLARS. Now, being a two-person band can be tough to pull off. Without the presence of a third person moving around and making noise, the band usually has to compensate by being consummate, inventive musicians. I say all of this because that is precisely what they were. In lieu of a standard drumset, Rob Kolar and Lauren Brown thought it would be better to kick the bass drum on its face so that she could tap dance on it. Accompanied by a single floor tom, a snare, and a little crash cymbal, Brown bashed passionately, which was all she needed to make the rhythm of each song feel complete.

Alongside Kolar’s powerful, gritty voice and rugged, pulsing, rock-n-roll guitar playing, as well as backing tracks bursting with funktastic bass lines, the band commanded us to escape ourselves in dance. And with sequined, shiny clothing, and an even more glittery guitar, the band seemed truly committed to the expression of their music. By the end of their set, they were panting and sweating and smiling, and so was I.

THE STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK

THE STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK at Starry Nites Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

While KOLARS may have been inspired by music of the past, THE STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK took it one step further by actually being music of the past. This seasoned group of rock veterans took the stage in honor of their 50th anniversary, making the band older than most of the performers on the lineup. But if you thought this meant the energy of their stage presence would be bogged down by age, think again. These old dudes still have it in them, taking us on a mind-expanding journey into the roots of psychedelic music. This was done with help of two drummers, electric sitars, two lead guitarists, bongos, a flute, a xylophone, and a masterful understanding of music. From a drum solo battle, to playing a guitar with drumsticks, to having two guitars embark on expertly nimble and mind blowing solos at the same damn time, these men were as involving and immersive as the drugs that influenced their music. Standing in a crowd of only a couple hundred people, I felt truly blessed to have been lucky enough to belong to such an exclusive, fortunate audience.

THE KILLS

THE KILLS at Starry Nites Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

After THE KILLS absolutely slayed their headlining set, an acoustic after show was set to take place “down by the river,” at the edge of the festival grounds. Intrigued by the idea, and awake enough to go, I decided to head down for some lullaby rock.

Once I had passed all of the RV campers, security guards, and general festival noises, a winding path of light bulbs came into view. Hanging delicately on a wire beside a dirt road, they sprinkled the dark, forest landscape all the way down to a quiet, leaf covered, backyard patio. I took a seat amongst fellow music lovers and waited for the soothing sounds of an acoustic guitar. Following a day of fuzzed out, psychedelic craziness, I found myself most ready for a slower, gentler change of pace.

Starry Nites Festival

Starry Nites Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

After only a short wait, Brent Deboer (The Dandy Warhols) and Bob Harrow of IMMIGRANT UNION took the stage. What followed was not just slow and gentle, but also beautiful, melodious, tender, and authentic; music sung straight from the heart. The vocal harmonies of these two men were pitch perfect and the guitar playing was effortlessly serene. Unfortunately, so soothing was the music that the notes soon began to fall upon my mind like warm, musical blankets. So that after only three songs or so, I had been sufficiently lullabied. As I stumbled back to my camp, the sounds of the acoustic show bouncing ever more faintly against my back, I smiled gratefully at the thought of doing it all again tomorrow.

Electric Six Bring Fresh Blood To The Dance Floor

ELECTRIC SIX

ELECTRIC SIX play The Casbah Mar. 30, The Constellation Room Mar. 31 and Bootleg Theater Apr. 1; photo Cortney Armitage

It’s that time of year again folks, and whether or not the power grids of Southern California can handle the sudden surges of electrical energy, Electric Six are coming to town. Touring in support of their latest musical effort, Fresh Blood for Tired Vampyres, the band will be performing at The Casbah Mar. 30, The Constellation Room Santa Ana Mar. 31, and the Bootleg Theater Apr. 1.

Over the last 14 years, lead singer Dick Valentine (born Tyler Spencer) and his band of electric misfits have been dishing out dance / punk / comedy rock at the prolific pace of an album every year (except for 2004; still impressive). With their latest release in October of last year, we found the band continuing to explore what it means to be a dance-punk band. Fusing their signature in-your-face danciness with healthy doses of 80’s Goth pop, the album promises to be a boogie-fest for the ages. Well, certainly at least for those of us worthy of appreciating their extremely unique and danceable vision.

But Valentine knows that his music isn’t for everyone. In fact, he embraces it. Taking a break from his pre-tour daddy duties (bringing to mind an image which stands in an intriguing contrast to his band’s usual silliness), Valentine sat down for a chat about his music, how he writes it, why he writes it, and the reasons behind his affinity for the strange and nonconforming.

CONCERT GUIDE LIVE: Vampires are so 2010. So that makes me wonder what’s going on with the vampiric theme of your last album? How did this inspiration come about?

Electric Six

ELECTRIC SIX; photo James Christopher

DICK VALENTINE: The main thing was that the core of our band, myself, Johnny Na$hinal, Tait Nucleus?, and Da Vė to some degree, we’ve been in the band for some time. And we’re middle aged men. And then all of a sudden we had a rhythm section that, over the course of a year, had left for greener pastures. So we recruited a couple younger dudes to play bass and drums for us, and that was basically the idea. We got this fresh blood riding along with these tired vampires.

CGL: You guys release an album every year. How does that work? What’s the writing process look like?
DV: Well, there’s no one way to do it. The guys in the band who write will send me logic or garageband sketches that I write lyrics to, or if I’m doing it myself, it’s usually done on guitar. I also have a little synthesizer that I work with.

Lyrically, it can start with a title, start with a word. As I go through the day and come up with an idea, I type it in the notes section on my phone. My phone is just filled with little sketches of like three or four words, and then I string them together and get an entire song.

CGL: You seem to be a devout follower of the strange and unconventional. Has this always been the case? When did you realize you could combine your strangeness with music?
DV: Well, for me personally, and without getting too personal, my bubble burst earlier. And you realize, as you see what’s happening to our country, how many people’s bubbles haven’t been burst. I mean, you look at people’s yearbooks and there was never a black person in the class, or they don’t know any gay people, or they don’t think the same, blah blah blah. And when I grew up I went to a very integrated school, went to the city of Detroit as a hipster and realized I wasn’t gonna die, I wasn’t gonna get shot, and ended up getting into music at that point.

So I guess to answer your question, once you realize that things you used to think were taboo, aren’t really taboo, that they’re actually fun and healthy, there’s really no limit to what you can do, as long as nobody gets hurt.

Electric Six

Electric Six; photo James Christopher

CGL: So then music became a platform for you to express that?
DV: Yeah, to some degree. For me I’ve always gravitated towards lyrics, what you can do with lyrics, and how they’re delivered. So, you know, I wanted the band to be interesting to myself. I firmly believe that if what you’re doing is interesting to yourself, then that’s the first step in making it more interesting for other people. So I know that not everybody’s gonna like our band, but we have enough people that do, so we’ve been able to keep doing it for 15 years.

CGL: Well, I’m glad that it sounds like you’re in touch with the “true inner self.” I think that’s where art is supposed to come from, and if it doesn’t, you can sense it. You hear all the derivative pop music on the radio, and there’s no soul there. At least, that’s how it feels to me.
DV: Yeah, I’ve never ever approached music like, “I know what it takes to get on the radio. I know what it takes to write a hit.” But so many people do, and that’s the end game. We ended up having moderate radio success in the UK for a year, and it was a complete accident. It was a fluke, and that’s the way I always approached it.

Our second album was kind of the one time in the history of this band where it was like, “Oh, you gotta write another ‘Gay Bar’,” and I realized that sitting down to try to do that is something I can’t do.

And also, within that, you look at all the pieces of shit that have been in the radio rotation. And it just proves the point that it’s not the songs, it’s not the songwriting, it’s the fucking radio pluggers. You can’t sit down and write a hit and have it go viral, and everybody loves it on its merits. So I’ve never approached it that way, and I’ve been very, very lucky to have wound up in situation where I can actually sustain myself, and still do what I was doing in 1996.

UFO Soars Into Anaheim With Saxon In Tow

UFO

UFO play HOB/San Diego Mar. 14, Belasco Theater Mar. 16, Grove of Anaheim Mar. 18; photo James Christopher

For those of you who prefer rock bands to be hard and/or full of hair, you’ll be excited to know that the veteran hard rockers of UFO and Saxon have decided to go on tour together. And as Southern Californians, we’ll have more than enough chances to bang our heads to the pulsing boom of their music. Be sure to catch them at the House of Blues San Diego Mar 14, Belasco Theater Los Angeles Mar 16, or The Grove of Anaheim Mar 18.

Starting out as a space rock band in the early 70’s, UFO has made its way through various forms of rock music, as well as lineups. Amidst all this change however, founding member Phil Mogg has managed to keep at least one thing consistent: the quality of his band’s musical output. To aid in this endeavor, Mogg sought out the mind of Vinnie Moore, who joined the band in 2003 to take up the role of lead songwriter.

Just weeks before he takes several stages all across America, Moore was kind enough to sit down and converse about all things music: how he makes it, how it exists today, and how we’d all be dead without it.

Concert Guide Live: I read on your website that you composed the majority of your latest album, Conspiracy of Stars. Was your input on the band’s music this significant when you first joined the group back in 2003?
Vinnie Moore: Yeah, it was pretty much the same. I think Phil wasn’t necessarily looking for only a guitar player, he knew he needed someone who wrote music. And that’s kinda why I got the gig. Not only for the guitar playing, but for the fact that I was a writer and he needed a partner, like he’d done with other people in the past.

CGL: When you write, do you ever have any specific goals, or, a specific direction you want to take the band? Do you listen to any particular music/artists to inspire your writing?
VM: I don’t really think about it that much, it’s kinda like, you pick up the guitar and start playing and whatever comes out, comes out. And my philosophy is write a bunch of songs and see what sticks. Then I’ll send the demos to Phil and he’ll pick the ones he feels he could do something with and they’ll be the ones we’ll go with.

CGL: I’ve seen videos of you guys playing “Love To Love” in which an acoustic guitar is set up on a waist high stand that enables you to play both electric and acoustic in the same song without taking off one guitar and putting on the other. I think that is just delightfully clever. How did you come to use this technique?
VM: Well, the Gracie Stand has been available for quite some time. But I never really had one until I joined UFO and there was a need for it. And actually – it’s funny – we tour over in Europe a lot, and our manager is really good friends with some of the guys in Scorpions. And when I first joined the band, you couldn’t get one of these Gracie Stands over there in Europe, so he would always borrow Rudolf Schenker’s. We would take it on the road and use it, until one time the Scorpions also needed it, at which point we finally had to get our own. But they were hard to get for a while. It was like, there’s only one in the world and Rudolf Schenker has it.
CGL: Beyond just playing music, I see that you’ve also done a couple of instructional videos. That must feel pretty great, you know, showing people how to access the wonderful world of music.
VM: Yeah, it definitely feels good. When I was a kid playing guitar, if I could have watched somebody’s video or talked to them at a clinic and directly asked a question that would have just been amazing.

CGL: Do you also find yourself diving into that world of instructional YouTube videos?
VM: Oh I’m always learning. I mean, music is endless. You can never stop learning. And yeah, I’ll check things out online, I’ll look into different musicians. Not only guitarists, but horn players, violin – whatever – you can pick up things everywhere.

CGL: Through the Internet and the spread of information and technology, I like to think we’re currently in a musical renaissance of sorts. What are your thoughts on this?
VM: I totally agree, but I think it’s also making people more lazy, too. I can’t tell you how many times people will send me messages on Facebook asking me if I could transcribe one of my songs for them in tablature. And you know, when I was a kid, I put on the record and learned the stuff. It’s really important to do it yourself because your ear gets better by doing it that way.

CGL: How would you describe the importance or function of music? In a general sense, you know, like in the context of a society or our species.
VM: I think people would be dead without music. It’s so important – it provides so much entertainment, so much emotion. I mean – it’s magical. You listen to a song on the radio and it can take you back to when you were a kid. It’s just unbelievably powerful. I’ve been studying it all my life and understand a lot about it, but then, in another way, I don’t understand anything about it. It just hits you very, very deeply. It’s spiritual.

The Melvins Let The Freak Flag Fly

THE MELVINS

THE MELVINS play the Fonda Theatre Jan. 27 and 28; press photo

Somewhere along the course of American history, the name, “Melvin,” became associated with pocket protectors, questionably sized eyeglasses, bowl cuts, and feeling passionate about long division. With this connotation firmly in hand, it seems only fitting that this word would go on to describe the gut-churning heavy, sludgy, gleefully dark and aggressive music of The Melvins.

Since standing as musical pillars of the “grunge” movement, Buzz Osborne and the (various) boys have yet to find a reason to stop. Their release earlier this year, Basses Loaded, marks the 25th time their name has been on a studio album. At a certain point, one would expect a band/artist, to slow down, or run out of ideas. But this album offers no indication of that. In fact, by making an effort to feature every member that has been in the band over the last decade, and even a Beatles cover, it laughs in the face of such blasphemy.

As implied by the title, the album places a special emphasis on the bassists, a unique move for any band, really. The end result is quintessential Melvins: unique, heavy, dark, and weird. And luckily for Southern Californians, these adjectives and more will be on local display once again as they return for two at the Fonda Theatre Jan. 27 and 28.

While in the midst of his preparations for the above mentioned shows, Buzz Osborne was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on making music, having weird hair, and staying out of the political fray.

Concert Guide Live: When you sit down to write a song, do you have any specific goals? Or do you just let it come out organically?

The Melvins

The Melvins

Buzz Osborne: You just kinda play, and hope something will come out of thin air (laughs).

CGL: So you’re not really into concept albums or anything like that?
BO: Maybe to some degree, but then sometimes you’ll just be playing some riffs and all of a sudden something’s really cool. But then you end up with a massive amount of that stuff. And you dig through it all, and most of it doesn’t get used at all. The vast majority of it, you know?

CGL: Your hair is very intriguing. What’s the story there? How do you feel it expresses who you are?
BO: I don’t know, I don’t mind looking freaky. I’m just like Little Richard; I don’t give a shit about any of that. It’s everybody else who cares about that. But I also understand, going out into the world looking like a freak, I’m gonna have to deal with a lot of stuff that normal people don’t. Fine with me. I made my bed, and I will lie in it.

CGL: So you don’t really view it as a way to live out your ideology of being true to yourself?
BO: I never really thought about it that much. I just wanna look like a weirdo.

CGL: Do you ever aspire to speak your personal opinions through your music?
BO: Well, I don’t like to go graphically into politics, because I don’t think it’s my place to do that. What I am, is an artist-musician who does what he wants to do, and maybe some people will care about it and it will make their lives a little better. Because it makes my life a little better. I mean, I feel the same way that people like Bob Dylan felt. Which is that they’re not “joiner-inners.” You got a protest; I don’t want nothing to do with it. I don’t feel good there. I don’t want to be a part of your club.

CGL: What advice would you give to younger musicians just starting out?
BO: Be as peculiar as possible. That always works. Don’t be a “joiner-inner.” Practice your instrument, but don’t practice things you’re never gonna play. I mean, beyond exercises, I never wanted to play Eddie Van Halen or Randy Rhoads type of solos, so I never learned them. Why should I bother? Try to figure out what bands the bands you’re into were into. I mean, clearly they were listening to something that inspired them. So, what was that, you know? Rehearse. Make records that you like. Don’t concern yourself with the outside world, in terms of, “Oh, I wonder what my fans can handle.” I figure my fans can handle whatever I do. And if they can’t, they clearly have no understanding of who I am. So be it.