Amerikkant but Ministry Took Command In Anaheim

MINISTRY

MINISTRY; photo James Christopher

MINISTRY was in top form at House of Blues Thursday night, kicking off the Amerikkant tour. They played well, sounded good, the stage was well-lit, the live mix was LOUD but spot-on allowing enough separation between instruments – a feat in itself – with up to eight musicians at any one time.

MINISTRY; photo James Christopher

MINISTRY stage; photo James Christopher

An eye-catching stage was adorned on each side with monstrous blowup chickens (turkeys?) sporting weird Trump-style hair and anti-Nazi symbols. Stacks of neon television sets were strewn about the stage and a sea of creepy cool mic stands woven with skulls and silver bones were front and center. A video screen furiously projected in the background throughout the set as the anger within the newer songs grew and grew.

Al Jourgenson MINISTRY; photo James Christopher

Al Jourgenson MINISTRY; photo James Christopher

Whether you’ve been, following Ministry through their various incarnations, or new to the world of Uncle Al Jourgensen, I cannot urge you enough to check out the latest album Amerikkant before seeing them on this tour. It’s in your best interest to familiarize yourself with these new songs – they’re the theme and motivation for the tour.

Sin Quirin MINISTRY; photo James Christopher

Sin Quirin MINISTRY; photo James Christopher

Ministry ushered in the evening with three tracks off Amerikkant beginning with the live debut of the lengthy, industrial-metal song, “Twilight Zone” that brings you into the fold, setting a unifying tone before moving into the live debut of, “Victims Of A Clown”. It’s another sure-to-be classic Ministry song, with guest vocalist Burton C. Bell (Fear Factory) taking over lead vocals while Jourgensen sang occasional backup but mostly played stunning guitar on his teardrop, masterfully using a distorted wah-wah effect and slide.

Cesar Soto MINISTRY; photo James Christopher

Cesar Soto MINISTRY; photo James Christopher

A little past the midway point of the set, some of the “older” songs from the late 80s, early 90s, began to appear “Just One Fix,” “N.W.O.,” “Thieves,” and “So What”. The band was truly locked in at this point and became even looser playing the longtime fan favorites, culminating in a 13-song setlist, plus a single song encore – 1999s “Bad Blood”.

All night, the frenzy of the crowd escalated as the energy of Ministry continued to fire on all cylinders. It never felt like they were just phoning it in. Everyone seemed keen to be on stage, playing great music both old and new.

Al Jourgenson MINISTRY; photo James Christopher

Al Jourgenson MINISTRY; photo James Christopher

Ministry definitely took command in Anaheim, but they also provided a platform to let your inner angst run rampant for a couple of hours.

Don’t forget to do yourself a favor – check out Amerikkant.

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.

One Love Cali Fest Day 1: Good Vibes Aplenty

ATMOSPHERE

ATMOSPHERE; photo Andy Ortega

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

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

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

FORTUNATE YOUTH

FORTUNATE YOUTH; photo Andy Ortega

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

MATISYAHU; photo Andy Ortega

MATISYAHU; photo Andy Ortega

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

TOMORROW'S BAD SEEDS; photo Andy Ortega

TOMORROW’S BAD SEEDS; photo Andy Ortega

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

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

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

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

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

The Raw Power of Dhani Harrison

Dhani Harrison; photo Andy Ortega

Dhani Harrison; photo Andy Ortega

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

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

Dhani Harrison; photo Andy Ortega

Dhani Harrison; photo Andy Ortega

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

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

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

Pinky Pinky Jump Start The Night

pinky pinky

Anastasia Sanchez of Pinky Pinky; photo James Christopher

Local teens, Pinky Pinky, had fun while remaining serious about playing their music at The Constellation Room. First of two bands on the bill for The Strokes’ Nick Valensi’s current band CRX, Pinky Pinky played to what began as a low-keyed audience of early arrivers. But, as their set progressed, some “whoops” and hollers erupted from the crowd.

It was hard not to admire this young female trio. Bassist Eva Chambers had some low-down, almost bluesy chops that complemented the deep, sultry voice of drummer/vocalist Anastasia Sanchez. Pony-tail flipping back and forth as she beat out the rhythms, her big eyes and captivating smile made it difficult to look away.

pinky pinky

Isabelle Fields of Pinky Pinky; photo James Christopher

But, when guitarist Isabelle Fields would go into one of her many solos, I had to watch and admire the natural skill and her ability not to rush. It made me wonder what records her parents listened to and if it had a subtle influence on her tone and style. A throw-back to early 70s rock guitar, her riffs and rhythms led me to toe-tapping and made the young men near me start dancing to the music.

Looking comfy but natural, two of the band members dressed in retro gas station attendant/car repair mechanic attire. Sanchez work pink jeans with her white short-sleeve shirt that read “California Towing” on the back while Fields wore a blue jumpsuit that had her ready to crawl under a car to begin repairs.

pinky pinky

Eva Chambers of Pinky Pinky; photo James Christopher

When the last song of the short but strong set was announced, the audience responded with a resounding “No!”, followed by genuine thunderous applause.

In fact, the audience managed to stop them from picking up their gear and leaving the stage, insisting they play one more. Looking slightly embarrassed and unsure, they obliged with one more song.

Keep an eye out for Pinky Pinky and watch their musicianship continue to develop and grow. You won’t be disappointed.

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.

The Damned On Fire At HOB

The Damned

Dave Vanian of The Damned; Photo James Christopher

The Damned stepped onto the huge stage at the newly opened House of Blues in Anaheim and declared it their new home. The crowd roared in approval and from the very first note to the very last, the audience remained enthusiastic.

Early on Dave Vanian was mesmerized and laughing at the massive lightshow that was bouncing off a disco ball suspended in the middle of the venue, quite appropriately leading in to their song “Disco Man”. All night long he was spinning, prancing, or moving back and forth along the edge of the stage like a caged predator.

The Damned

Captain Sensible of The Damned; Photo James Christopher

The band were in good spirits, seemingly having fun throughout their 90 minute set, keeping the energy going nonstop. The music was loud in a good way with Captain Sensible’s guitar blowing the roof off several times. Wearing red plaid pants, red striped shirt, red and white checkered sneakers, blue jean vest and of course, his traditional red beret, he played like his guitar was on fire during songs such as “Ignite,” “Plan 9, Channel 7,” and “Jet Boy, Jet Girl”.

The band as a whole were playful and spontaneous and at one point, Monty Oxymoron , jumped out from behind his keyboard and did a manic crazy “dance”, bushy corkscrew hair flying, arms flailing as he spun in circles across the stage during the short solo near the end of the seminal “New Rose”.

The Damned

Dave Vanian of The Damned; Photo James Christopher

The lighting was crazy good and Vanian’s face was often green-lit creating a Frankenstein monster effect. He was dressed quite dapper in his finery including an orchid in his buttonhole. Traditionally clean-shaven, he appeared with a short full-face beard and mustache adding to his already distinguished look.

It was an all-ages show and all ages showed up.

the damned

The Damned; Photo James Christopher

A traditional mosh pit of youngsters ran in circles most of the night consistently pushing the rest of the packed house to the back and sides to express themselves without getting knocked around. The pit grew to humungous proportions for the encore and everyone left happy and fulfilled, looking forward to next time.

Click to read an Interview with Captain Sensible

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.