One Love Cali Fest Day 2: Beautiful Moments Abound

ARISE ROOTS; photo Andy Ortega

ARISE ROOTS; photo Andy Ortega

For those of you unfamiliar with Long Beach’s annual One Love Cali Reggae Festival, it is exactly what you would expect a festival called “One Love” to be: music about peace, love, and weed being played to peaceful, loving people smoking weed. But it was also so much more than that. As I made my initial voyage through the festival grounds last Sunday, I could not keep from smiling up at the warmth of the sun, as the breeze blew gently through the air, my body already bouncing to the music as it wafted in from the distant speakers of the main stage. I don’t think I realized it then, that the smile would last the entire day (my cheeks are actually sore). The general “vibes” I felt from the fans, the festival personnel, and the performers created an almost tangible atmosphere of goodwill and soulful freedom. When you throw in a whole day of reggae music played by artists who radiate peace and love, then you can maybe start to imagine the boundless joy that was the One Love Cali Reggae.

MATISYAHU; photo Andy Ortega

MATISYAHU; photo Andy Ortega

Throughout the day, I found myself perpetually in awe of the bands onstage. To the uninitiated, reggae music might seem simple and repetitive. But there is an intricacy that belies the slow tempos and basic chord structures. This thought comes to mind particularly when I think back to MATISYAHU’S performance that day, who outright manifested exactly what I am trying to say. Performing the setlist from his beloved Live at Stubbs album, his command over the music and the crowd was absolute. By all means people were jazzed up about HIRIE, but when Matisyahu went deep into the thickness of his groove, his soaring vocals, frenetic dancing (at one point he was just kicking and flailing around, it was awesome), and general musical prowess had us all under his spell.

ARISE ROOTS; photo Andy Ortega

ARISE ROOTS; photo Andy Ortega

Still drunk off of Matisyahu’s swagger, I made my way to the festival’s smaller stage, the Flav Stage, eager to keep the fire going with help of ARISE ROOTS. With the majestic Queen Mary glinting in the backdrop, the band and surrounding atmosphere was markedly “chiller.” Having just been electrified by Matisyahu, the easy-going tempo and body-hugging basslines made it seem as though the whole world took a hit from a bong. As I swayed to and fro with the rest of the crowd, I found myself flushed with warmth as lead vocalist, Karim Israel, took the time to spread the love he was currently feeling. Not just for his fans, but for the festival and the music, and his band and the world. It was a welcome reminder to be grateful for where I was, surrounded by love at a One Love festival. Looking around at all the smiling faces, I could tell I wasn’t the only one feeling that sense of privilege. What a beautiful moment. And then Hirie came on stage; hype levels rose dramatically. They performed a couple songs together, but honestly it was all just a blur of cannabis clouds and moving hips. Needless to say, after I left the dancefloor, it was time to refuel.

NATTALI RIZE; photo Andy Ortega

NATTALI RIZE; photo Andy Ortega

The various festival eateries took you on a cuisine trip around the world. As a vegetarian, I found myself with plenty of options. With veggie spring rolls, veggie burgers, fruit cups, probably a veggie burrito somewhere, I never really felt limited. There was also CBD-infused cotton candy and donut ice cream sandwiches, simply because the festival runners know their target audience. I ended up having a vegan Jamaican wrap with sweet fried plantains. I had never had anything like it, but it did not matter. Whatever flavors were happening to my mouth, they seemed universally delicious.

It also feels worth noting that the various lines I had to stand in felt entirely reasonable, often even enjoyable.

THE ORIGINAL WAILERS; photo Andy Ortega

THE ORIGINAL WAILERS; photo Andy Ortega

Not only because of their brevity, but also because everybody I met in a line or at the cash register was nicer than the last. I found myself caught in an endless stream of people who were just radiating positive energy. From the shoeless dancing afro guy who was entranced by my shirt, the group of girls who started a backpack pile for everyone so we could all dance without the weight of our stuff, to the swing dancing environmentalist who ended up joining our group and filling the night with stoned laughter and passionate dancing, the people of One Love Cali Reggae deserve a shout out from the bottom, top, and middle of my heart. This goes especially for those who shared in the unforgettable experience of THE ORIGINAL WAILERS.

THE ORIGINAL WAILERS; photo Andy Ortega

THE ORIGINAL WAILERS; photo Andy Ortega

I feel as though it goes without saying: any festival called One Love Cali Reggae should require at least seven Bob Marley songs be performed by the end of the festival. The Original Wailers gladly took up the task with both hands on Sunday, breathing authentic life and energy into the classic reggae “standards.” As the band laid down the sweet sounds of “Could You Be Loved,” the crowd began building a wall of passion and energy around the stage. Everyone, and I almost literally mean everyone, was singing along to every Bob Marley song they played. It had me wondering if the spirit of Robert himself had returned from the ethereal plane to surround and enliven us with the love I often feel through his songs. As the band neared the end of “Is this Love,” they took their cue and stepped aside. What followed was a bursting, angelic chorus of smiling faces singing the whole song all over again, acapella. The whole crowd swayed and sang in unison as the sun set against the surrounding oceanside, in an unforgettable display of what felt like humanity’s true potential. Is this love? You better believe it.

LONG BEACH DUB ALLSTARS; photo Andy Ortega

LONG BEACH DUB ALLSTARS; photo Andy Ortega

I could go on and on about the artists that day. SAMMY JOHNSON sang with unmatchable beauty, as always. BARRINGTON LEVY raised the roof and brought it crashing back down with his rambunctious and tireless crowd-hyping. LONG BEACH DUB ALLSTARS played some of the happiest, energetic reggae I’ve ever heard, with a brass section that simply commanded you to bring your best dance moves.

SAMMY JOHNSON; photo Andy Ortega

SAMMY JOHNSON; photo Andy Ortega

While we’re at it, I also want to take the time to mention the sound engineers. All of the bands were mixed flawlessly, with audio levels that made every single act seem like a headliner. The attention to sound design really made a difference throughout the day, allowing me to fully escape in the vision of each artist. And escape I did. Not just in the music, but in the general frivolity we all shared together. It was truly a beautiful day, one I cannot wait to repeat both in my dreams, and in the years to come.

Breaking Down Chinatown

Full Flower Moon Band-Chinatown Movie

Full Flower Moon Band-Chinatown Movie

Welcome to the bewilderingly artful experience of Full Flower Moon Band’s audio-visual concept album, Chinatown. And if you aren’t familiar with the indie rock scene in Australia, you might not know that this band, and its ambitious debut project, is the brainchild of a person who goes by the name Babyshakes (but who is actually named Kate Dillon).

Babyshakes, as a part of Gabriella Cohen’s band, opened for Foxygen’s touring production of “Hang” last year at the Fonda Theater. And although Cohen may have also helped Babyshakes record Chinatown, make no mistake, Full Flower Moon Band (FFMB) is very much its own entity.

Full Flower Moon Band

Full Flower Moon Band

Whereas Cohen makes hazy, laid back, catchy garage rock, the music of FFMB is melancholic, dreamy, gothic, and raw. Quite unsurprisingly, her movie flows into similar territory, with extra doses of quasi-esoteric abstractionism.

It is not necessarily that the film is totally incomprehensible, in that it feels like repeated viewings could very well yield answers to many questions. The movie is simply packed with expression, operating on multiple levels at once, and requiring that you be fully engaged. There is the sense of real, deeply deliberated meaning at play.

Eager to discover more about that meaning, Concert Guide Live sought out Babyshakes for a conversation about her passion project, to which she graciously agreed.

Full Flower Moon Band-Chinatown Movie

Full Flower Moon Band-Chinatown Movie

You can watch the film HERE before reading why it feels like there’s something more going on, what authentic art means to Babyshakes, and how Chinatown represents her journey both as a person and as an artist.

CONCERT GUIDE LIVE: I definitely picked up on a lot of the thematic stuff in the movie, such as the questioning of authenticity and art, what is real, etc. But I also feel like I just have more questions than answers. Was the point to confuse us?
BABYSHAKES DILLON: Yeah well at the end of the day, the [movie] is supposed to sort of leave you with this feeling that you didn’t see the whole film. And the reason for that is because I based the movie in the future where you have to have a certain amount of artistic credit in order to view it.

And I sort of knew I didn’t have the budget to make the blockbuster film that was in my head, so I just made all the pieces that I could make and alluded to this larger picture that you could never understand. And the moral of the story is that you can only have your lived experience. So, I guess I want people to be left with the feeling of like, ‘You gotta live it instead of watching it.’ Because that’s the only way to really experience life.”

CGL: So, basically there is no real truth to art? Only what you get out of it?
BD: Yeah, exactly. I’m glad you got that.

CGL: Then what makes art authentic? Is there such a thing? Or is it all lost in translation?
BD: I’ve always strived as the artist to be authentic, but the more I create, the more I realize, ‘It’s still Hollywood, baby’. It’s still smoke and mirrors. So, I guess you have to strive for authenticity in your process? Which is another reason why Chinatown is a documentary about the movie that you’ll never see because I’m trying to say the journey is more important than the destination.

CGL: I’d like to touch on that structure for a second. I feel like there’s a lot of self-referential writing these days, to the point where it kind of feels inauthentic and overplayed. Not that I’m saying yours did, but I am curious what your thoughts are on “meta” art?
BD: It makes it really hard for artists to find an authentic voice because you can constantly break that wall and be like, ‘Hey, I know what we’re all doing here’. I did break that wall a lot of times, but I did try to keep it contained within the movie dialogue. As opposed to it actually completely breaking down so that I hope I never broke it down to the point of irony. I hope I kept it within its own art.

I think my next work will not be as “meta.” But I think I had to work through that in order to realize that my art is valid as a product. I also just didn’t really have the money to make Chinatown the movie and so I had to make a film within a film.

CGL: There were moments where that got really crazy though. That interview scene felt like it was obviously acting. But it was also supposed to be real life. So, it was like art imitating life imitating art. And my mind was just blown away.
BD: Okay, so, I really had clear visions for this film that didn’t get realized (laughs). So, what I ended up with is like, triple the intensity of what I probably would have wanted to make, simply because it’s my first film. So, when I’m doing an interview and I want it to look real, it still looks fake. But that’s probably a blessing in a way because it’s authentic in the way it reflects where I’m at as an artist. You’re seeing what I tried to do, and the journey that I wanted to show, but you’re kind of seeing the journey of me doing that.

CGL: A journey within a journey. I like it. How do you think that plays out for your audience though? Did you write it with them in mind? Or do you have to forsake audience to make authentic art?
BD: I feel like you really do have to forget about your audience. Because they might not always be there.

CGL: Right. And if you only make art for other people, then you kind of get trapped in this box of identity. Because now you’re having to live up to this idea of you as a certain type of artist instead of you living up to who you already are.
BD: Okay, I think I know what’s going on. So clearly there are two phases of creativity, the zone where you’re making the art and you’re creating a vision that you want to make for the world. And then, when that project or that idea is completed and you’re happy to sign off on it.

Then there’s the promotion and the marketing campaign. Don’t get the two confused. I mean, there’s no point thinking about how it’s gonna be received and what your press shot is gonna be or what blog is gonna premier it if it’s not made yet. And I think I really had to “go into the mountains” and make it.

Then there was this clear distinction to me when I stopped making the art and started making the brand. They’re two different things. There’s a lot of people who have a brand but don’t have any art.

Ozomatili Bring Their Unique Music Non-Stop

OZOMATLI

OZOMATLI play Canyon Club Nov. 24, The Rose Nov. 25, The Coach House Nov. 26; promo pic

Although you may not have touched a car radio since the introduction of the AUX port, it’s possible to wager that most artists heard on the radio can be placed into a pre-existing genre with ease. However, every once in a while, a band will emerge with a sound that escapes an easy label. They will challenge our preconceived notions of musical genres by blurring the lines between them. Ozomatli, a band that is famous for their mold breaking fusions of culture and genre, are one of those very bands.

While it can be said that they play primarily within the realm of Latin rock, the group has dabbled in nigh every genre you can think of, including salsa, jazz, funk, reggae, and rap. Their songs can (somehow) shift from cumbia to hip hop within seconds, their albums playing out more like a collection of different artists than one borne out of a single group. For decades, the band has been sharing their unique sense of fusion with the world. One that comes paired, appropriately enough, with a focus on activism and political progress.

A quick search will tell you they have long been involved with all manner of activist activity, from performing at protests for immigration and women’s rights, all the way to becoming cultural ambassadors for the U.S. State Department. And so, here is a band that has brought many different genres together, showing us that disparate genres can coexist with one another in the same band and even the same song. I suppose it only makes sense they would try and show us that we can all coexist with each other just as well.

In a recent interview with percussionist and original member, Jiro Yamaguchi, Concert Guide Live digs down to the historical roots of Ozomatli. For those curious about how a band like this could exist, check out our conversation below. And be sure to listen to their new album, Non-Stop: Mexico to Jamaica, a collection of Latin songs rearranged as reggae songs. It’s awesome.

And If you want to experience the magic in person, you have several chances to see them in the SoCal Area: Nov. 24 The Canyon Club, Nov. 25 The Rose, Nov. 26 The Coach House, Dec. 9 Saban Theatre, Dec. 22 and Dec. 23 The Music Box. So, don’t miss out!

CONCERT GUIDE LIVE: When did activism become a part of Ozomatli music?
JIRO YAMAGUCHI: When we were just starting out there was this labor dispute going on down at this building which was run by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. Our bass player was involved in that group and they were fighting for health care and better wages for their job. But in doing so, they got fired from their job, but won the lease to the building. Which is when we came in. It was called the Peace and Justice center. We were just playing music to make money to keep the whole operation going. And then it became this thriving arts community for the youth. There was like skate programs and graffiti art and things like that. So that’s how we got our start. We got asked to do gigs for all different kinds of causes. Whether it was women’s issues, immigration issues, Prop 187. So, we have always been involved.

CGL: What about music makes it an appropriate medium for political discussion and activism?
JY: It’s a vehicle that brings people together. It’s a medium in which you can express ideas. I don’t think our music is overtly political, but we do represent – I think – conclusion, and trying to put different ideas together to see if they work. And they don’t always work.

CGL: Speaking of bringing different ideas together, are there certain band members that bring different genres and cultures to the table? How did your sound form?
JY: It’s funny because when we first started we didn’t have any focus necessarily on any genre, or like, “this is the style of music we’re gonna do.” It’s kinda like the group of people that got together, the people who showed up, whatever their forte’s were, that was what we made music with.

Wil (Wil-Dog Abers/bass) has expertise in reggae, and Cut Chemist is a Dj, and I had been playing tabla in a lot of North Indian classical music. Justin (Poreé /percussion) had a lot of experience with Afro Cuban music, as well as our lead singer (Asdrubel Sierra) who is well versed in Latin music of all different kinds. And so, we just threw everything into the pot and made music from it. It just naturally was that way. Everybody was open enough that they were into exploring whatever kinds of ideas.

CGL: So, it sounds like the band would never have existed if it weren’t for that cultural center.
JY: I mean, I think it’s all pretty important. In a lot of ways, it represents Los Angeles and the blending of different communities and cross pollination of different things. I think we’re pretty unique, but then again, I think there are bands around the world that also infuse different music. But I guess music has always been fusing, whether it’s rock, jazz, reggae. It all feeds and communicates.

CGL: You ventured into children’s territory several times, including the Happy Feet Two videogame soundtrack and Ozokidz. What inspired this shift towards a family oriented style of music?
JY: Well, we realized that some of our fans were getting older. We noticed that they weren’t coming to our shows in the middle of the week, and we were like, “Why is nobody here?” So, we sent that out on our Facebook and said, “Hey we’ll give you tickets, come on down, we’re here.” But then people would respond, “We can’t, it’s a weeknight, we have kids.” So, it was just a realization that “Our fans have families now, let’s make music for them.”

Soft Kill To Set The Mood For Chameleons Vox

SOFT KILL

SOFT KILL play Echoplex Sep. 10; photo Joanna Stawnicka

Although the headlines and YouTube videos will tell you we are currently in the middle of a 1980’s reemergence, thanks to a number of bands throughout the years, it’s safe to say that 80’s music never really died. Drawing upon the reverberating and washed out textures of the post-punk world, bands within the “post-punk continuum” movement have kept the spirit of the 80’s alive and well. Situated firmly amongst this group of musicians, we find the Portlandian post-punk enthusiasts, Soft Kill.

Having officially entered the scene in San Diego during 2010, they reentered the music scene in 2015, born anew in the streets of Portland, Oregon. Lead by singer/guitarist Tobias V.H., the band resurfaced with Maximillion Avila behind the kit (of Holy Molar, Antioch Arrow and Chromatics fame), and Owen Glendower on synth and bass. The newly assembled outfit went on to record last Choke, an album praised for its masterfully realized vision and production. Drenched in moody, guitar-driven atmospherics and airy, melancholic vocals, this lush soundscape is often punctuated and undercut by the raw power of Avila’s drumming, and driven by the energy and edge of a punk band experimenting with tonality.

While it’s easy to apply the generalized “post-punk” label to the band’s sound, the band really shows little concern for belonging within a genre. Their music is played with the kind of sincerity that gives way to a palpable originality. While they may be retooling a soundscape firmly explored by those who came before, with Choke they have taken the genre by the unique grip of their own hands. Tobias stopped by for a quick chat about the production of this album, as well as what it takes to bring the album to life in concert.

And be sure to catch them September 10 at the Echoplex Los Angeles!

CONCERT GUIDE LIVE: Considering how much atmosphere your songs have, how do your songs begin? A riff? A certain sound? An idea? What’s the beginning of the process look like?
TOBIAS V.H.: For me, I normally program a drumbeat and start laying down guitars. I would lay down one or two guitar parts and just streamline and work on the interplay of those two. And from there, I would put a bassline over it after the fact, instead of starting the foundation with drums and bass.

CGL: The vocals on Choke are often washed out to the point of inscrutability. In this regard, how do you write your lyrics knowing most words will be lost in the reverb of your production?
TV.H.: That’s been the only one of our three records with that production approach. It was intentional to some degree, inspired somewhat by Cocteau Twins, with the vocals being an instrument more than a tool to get a certain story across. That being said, it’s lyrically one of the deepest things we’ve done, so people should definitely check out the insert and read along.

CGL: There are melancholic, brooding undertones to most of your music. Would you consider yourself a melancholic or brooding person? Or are you simply attracted to that type of sound?
TV.H.: I’ve lived a very dark life and that lead me down a pretty heavy road most people wouldn’t be able to relate to so musically it fits the autobiographical nature of the songs. There is a lot of death in the lyrics, lot of obituaries for allies who didn’t make it out of the life we collectively chose: drugs, prison, violence and chaos. That being said, I am a fairly upbeat and goofy person, genuinely. The trend of being a depressed, negative asshole doesn’t bode well with me at all.

CGL: I see the word post-punk often ascribed to your band. What does post-punk mean to you and how do you fit into that definition? If not with “post-punk,” or in addition to, how would you describe your music?
TV.H.: Post Punk by definition is all the music that came in the wake of the original wave of ’77 punk. The Cure, Joy Division, Magazine and Bauhaus are all starting points, paving the way for The Chameleons, The Sound, Lowlife and other bands who were a huge influence on us. Because those are our favorite artists it’s easy to just call us that. I just consider us a punk band.

CGL: Given the importance of atmosphere in your songs how do you approach performing live? Do you work closely with the sound engineers? How do you think your music translates to the stage from the studio?
TV.H.: We’ve been lucky to figure out which venues really get what we’re doing, with sound systems and engineers we can rely on. We usually fill the room with a dense wall of smoke, turn up loud and rely on our own lights to convey the overall vibe and backdrop for our songs. I definitely believe we’re a band to see live if you like the records.

Trip Out To Heron Oblivion

HERON OBLIVION

HERON OBLIVION play The Constellation Room Jul 27, The Echo Jul 28, Pappy & Harriet’s Jul 29, Space Bar Jul 30; photo Alissa Anderson

It was two years ago that I first experienced Heron Oblivion aptly sending minds into ecstatic, musical oblivion.

I was making my way through the overstuffed halls of The Observatory during its annual Burgerama festival when I noticed that I had a gap in my schedule. So, I found myself wandering amongst the unfamiliar sound waves of bands I hadn’t heard of, in search of musical respite. As I pushed and squeezed my way within hearing distance of The Constellation Room, a swirling frenzy of musical sound suddenly filled my senses. I didn’t know who or what it was, but I knew I needed to experience it. I entered the room to find Heron Oblivion.

The magnificent flurry of Noel Von Harmonson and Charlie Saufley’s concurrent guitar solos, Ethan Miller’s chest-rumbling bass, and Meg Baird’s all-encompassing crash cymbal crescendoed into a tonal mountain, which the band then brought crashing down with expert grace. As the musical dust settled, Baird’s ethereal, crystalline voice cut through the newfound silence. It was a timbre so sonorous and beautiful that I was taken aback at first; I had not expected such a voice to follow such gritty intensity. But whatever dissonance I was perceiving was immediately welcomed, the resulting dynamic a novel and mesmerizing one.

Needless to say, by the end of the first song, I had already taken out my schedule and circled the band three times over with red pen.

Labeled as a “supergroup” of sorts, the band features a group of artists coming together from a variety of other groups. As a band, they somehow combine psychedelia’s tendency for sudden shifts, sprawling soundscapes, and “trippy” sound effects (see: wah pedal, tape echo, etc.), with the distortion and face-meltery of hard rock, and the lyrical archetypes and vocal melodies of traditional folk. In a time of infinite access to music, it is all too refreshing to hear such a unique combination of sound and emotion.

Sitting down with Concert Guide Live to speak about the nature of that combination, Von Harmonson recently gave us the inside scoop on the band’s recording history. What follows will surely add an extra layer of appreciation to your listening experience, when you inevitably jam out to their self-titled album later today.

Heron Oblivion

Heron Oblivion self-titled album cover

Concert Guide Live: Having seen you guys play live, I feel like the chemistry you all share is what really makes the experience. Do you remember the moment you realized you had found the right bandmates?
Noel Von Harmonson: So, we got together, and for like the first six times we played together we didn’t really play a song. We just turned on little digital recorders and let loose. A lot of these pieces ended up being 20 minutes long or something, and some of them were kind of cool jammy things based around a riff. And some of them were just completely abstract in terms of tones, timbres, feedback, noises and drums and stuff.

It wasn’t until maybe a couple practices later, we’d listen back to some of the stuff that came out of these jams and there was this one thing that would like kind of resemble a song. Like, if we took that riff and put it with another riff we would have kind of a song thing.

So, then we were like “What if we wrote a song?” We did that, and then shortly thereafter, we were like, “Meg do you wanna try singing, too? Because I know it’s kind of crazy being a singing drummer.” And for me, the minute that she started singing to the music that we were playing, it clicked. I thought, “We’re onto something here.”

CGL: How would you describe Meg’s vocals within the context of Heron Oblivion’s music?
NVH: Brilliant, amazing.

CGL: Agreed.
NVH: Well, we knew Meg’s singing from her older projects. We knew that she had, and I’m sure I can speak for all of us, one of the most beautiful singing voices out of anybody contemporary that we know. Whether or not that was going to fit anywhere within this squally, guitar-based, not really aggressive, but loud sort of environment, we weren’t really sure. But we took some nods from influences we all sort of had in common and put the pieces together, theoretically.

We didn’t do this in a conversation, mind you, these were all subconscious, telepathic conversations that we had while playing together. So, we made sense of [our jamming] and consciously made room for the vocals so that the guitars and stuff could get out of the way and feature Meg’s vocals. Without making it too much of a cookie cutter formula though, where it’s like “loud part, quiet part, loud part, quiet part.” So sometimes we have Meg singing over the loud parts, which is obviously a lot easier to pull off on a record than it is live. But she’s got a really strong voice, too. So, if the house mix is dialed in right, I think she can still come out over the top of all those guitars we’re beating on and swinging around.

CGL: Your first record has that same raw, live feel to it. I have to imagine you guys were playing live together in the studio. Why was it important to you to do it this way?
NVH: The reason why we did that is because it simulated the way that we rehearsed. A lot of our music will have energetic momentum that comes and goes and that’s a lot based on being able to hear each other in that moment. Also, having eye contact, being able to throw a head nod as a cue or something. Just a lot of stuff that’s very inherent and only comes with playing live in the same room. More importantly than all of that, it also captures the essence of — and that’s what you’re talking about — us four playing together, at once, in a room.

Rather than trying to split that up into separate tracks — which is so awkward and disjointed — we wanted that cohesive vibe. Even though I don’t like to use the word vibe. We wanted it to sound like a unified piece of rock machinery, hopefully semi-well-oiled and tuned up and still a little rickety.

Be sure to witness the divine intensity for yourself, at any one of their four stops in the SoCal area: The Constellation Room Jul 27, The Echo Jul 28, Pappy & Harriet’s Jul 29, Space Bar Jul 30.

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.