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.

Beach Goth Day 2: The Music Saves A Rainy Day

Beach Goth Day 2

Beach Goth Day 2 festival grounds; photo Reuben Martinez

For the uninitiated, Beach Goth is a two-day festival put on each year at The Observatory in Santa Ana by surf-garage kings The Growlers. It’s a hedonistic, grimy (in the best way), mutant display where people dress up in gory costumes and groove along to diverse lineups that always have a sense of humor (Devendra Banhart after Gucci Mane, anyone?). Let’s just put it this way, it’s held in a parking lot, and you’re not gonna see any damn flower crowns.

Before departing for Beach Goth Day 2, I spoke to a friend of mine who went the previous day (headliners: James Blake, King Krule, Bon Iver), and heard the usual complaints: oversold, overaggressive security, and hot as hell with no relief. These are things patrons have been complaining about for the last four years, so I was expecting them. I might even say, prepared for them. Not even close.

11:25am: I arrive. The line to get in is so long it’s offensive and it’s sprinkling. “It will let up,” I think. “It never rains all day in Southern California.” After all, I had dutifully looked up the day’s forecast and was promised a steamy 80 degrees for most of the day, so I dressed appropriately, i.e. sandals, a tank-top, and my soon-to-be-crushed naiveté.

12:20pm: I head over to the smaller of the two outdoor stages to see The Frights. On my way, I pass booths peddling merch, tantalizing fried chicken sandwiches, and whatever the girls in black t-shirts and no pants were promoting. I stop by The Growlers tent and pick up a “City Club” shirt for a reasonable 25 bucks. Reasonable in that it would save my life in about four hours.

The Frights

The Frights – Beach Goth Day 2; photo Reuben Martinez

12:35pm: The Frights went on right on time and slayed. Their high-energy, surf-punk songs about hating your parents and making out were a perfect kick-off. They sounded great, and got into the spirit of the festival by dressing up as characters from the Netflix show Stranger Things.

The lead singer was dressed as Eleven, complete with a nosebleed and Eggo waffles that he tossed out to the crowd, while his bandmate, dressed as Hopper asked the crowd, “Can anybody tell me where the fuck Will Byers is?” Oh, and they did a killer cover of Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So.” The rain had stopped, the sun was coming out, and I was in a state of bliss as I headed over to the Observatory stage for the next two sets.

1:20pm: There are two stages indoors, the tiny Constellation Room stage, and the larger Observatory stage. I head into the latter with no issue. It’s full, but not stifling, and I can hear the hum of an air-conditioner. I hunker down and get comfy, thankful that I’ll be out of the sun for the hottest part of the day (Oh, blissful ignorance). Smooth as clockwork, freak-folk outfit Timber Timbre went on at 1:35, and cast a spell with their spooky, moody magic. I was entranced by the dark atmosphere inside the venue, accented with red lights and Taylor Kirk’s demented gyrating.

2:35pm: BRONCHO, Ohio pop-punkers responsible for the di-di-di-di-di ear-worm “Class Historian,” were up next. I’ve seen them before and here’s the thing. I love their albums, but the way they mix their live sound, it winds up sounding like mush. There’s no distinction, and Ryan Lindsey’s nasally gurgle of a voice can barely be made out. The same thing happened this time around, but the songs are so good, that it’s still powerful and high energy…when you can tell what song it is.

BRONCHO

BRONCHO – Beach Goth Day 2; photo Reuben Martinez

3:10pm: My stomach had started to growl during the BRONCHO set, so I decide to forgo Tops in the Constellation Room and head back to that tasty fried chicken tent I saw earlier. As soon as I exit the cozy darkness of the Observatory, all hell breaks loose. It’s raining. Hard. The exit reads “No Re-entry” and the surly security guards staring at me wordlessly enforce it. Besides, I’m hungry, so I take a deep breath and step outside. “This isn’t so bad,” I think as I purchase my chicken sandwich. I ravenously tear into my food, crouching over it so the rain doesn’t make it soggy. “I’m having a good time.”

3:20pm: I take respite in a port-a-potty. Sad, I know, but I gotta pee and write down some of my notes. I enjoy the dryness for longer than anyone should be in a port-a-potty and head back out into the wet.

3:55pm: Devendra Banhart starts his set at the larger of the outdoor stages. “You’re gonna get wet, but you can keep each other warm,” he tells the soaked crowd. For the current downpour situation, Banhart is the perfect medicine. His feel-good, latin-infused, psychedelic folk music makes me actually enjoy the rain. It’s soothing, cleansing, instead of the reason my toes are going numb. He plays songs off of his new album, Ape In Pink Marble, as well as old favorites that keeps the audience swaying as the rain came down even harder.

4:45pm: At this point, I’m soaked to the bone, freezing, and wanting shelter. Problem is, there’s absolutely none. Also, the number of people in this joint has increased, it seems, ten-fold. I can barely walk without stepping on someone. Add to that the confusion of the rain, and I’m surprised I didn’t get an eye taken out by all the drunken umbrella holders. I make an executive decision. I’ll miss out on some other acts so I can go back inside and camp out for The Buttertones at 6:15. I wait in the enormous, mob-like line to get indoors, putting on my new Growlers shirt in hopes it will stop my shivering.

5:10pm: Finally, I’m about to get inside. Sweet victory. Hallelujah. I can feel the welcoming dryness beckoning to me. I’m practically inside. BOOM. Huge Samoan security guard barrels into me, shoves me out of the way so hard that I nearly lose my balance, and cuts off the line, slamming the door shut. “No one else is getting in here,” he bellows. Shit.

Beach Goth Day 2

Beach Goth Day 2 festival grounds; photo Reuben Martinez

5:30pm: Back in the port-a-potty. Did I have to pee this time? No. Did I have to wade through ankle-height puddles that have made the main drag of merchandise booths look like Venice, Italy? Yes. People are huddling around food trucks for warmth, poor girls who spent hours doing their makeup (bloody gashes included), huddle sadly under upheld sweatshirts. I walk back toward the smaller outdoor stage. This seems to be the only place where there’s actual breathing room, so I take a seat on the cold, wet ground.

5:45pm: A lovely gay couple wanders over and we commiserate. We realize the stage has been shut down and they won’t get to see their beloved Grimes, the reason they bought their tickets in the first place. I won’t get to see The Drums, one of my favorites. We exchange condolences. The sounds of Unknown Mortal Orchestra waft over to us from the main stage. I tell them my plan to stick it out for The Growlers and then get the hell out. We part ways.

6:40pm: After one more expedition to the port-a-potty—during which I saw one poor girl lose her balance and tumble into a huge puddle, as well as a security guard slamming a seemingly innocent man’s face into a taco truck—I head back to the main stage where Future Islands is finishing up. Alas, it has finally stopped raining and I’m enjoying the communal heat of the crowd.

8:10pm: After a 40-minute delay—they had to put in a new soundboard—The Growlers finally take the stage. “Sorry we made it rain,” Brooks Nielsen explained, thanking the crowd for hanging in there through a brutal day. Dressed in matching burgundy suits, the band served a crowd-pleasing mix of new City Club tracks, plus perennials like “One Million Lovers” and “Someday.”

Nielsen is a happy host, part Willy Wonka, part carnival barker, genuinely happy to be there. “This is our festival, but it’s also all of yours,” he said.

As I swayed along to the music, I didn’t care that my toes were numb, that I missed half the acts I wanted to see, that I would probably contract pneumonia in the next few days. There was nowhere else I wanted to be.

Beach Goth Day 1 (2016)

THE GROWLERS-Beach Goth

The Growlers, Beach Goth Day 1; photo Lauren Ratkowski

The thing about lines is, if you’re bothering to wait in one in the first place, chances are it’s because you really want the thing at the end of it. And so the line really becomes an understood low before the high, a necessary part of the prize-getting process.

As I stood in various amounts of lines at the Observatory for the first day of The Growlers’ annual Beach Goth festival, I further thought to myself, “You know what? You can’t even have a high without a low anyways. That’s just bad science. So in a way, it’s good that Beach Goth is incredibly, inescapably crowded.” And then I continued to stand there, now smiling confidently, wherever I was lucky enough to be, as the bands, the crowds, and the donut-ice-cream-sandwiches being sold at the Afters booth reminded me what it’s like to relish the gift of life.

(That’s all I’m going to say about how crowded it was. So just know that it was, that I wish it wasn’t, but that it also by no means stained the experience.)

Speaking of which, you can’t have crowds without people, and the people at Beach Goth were pretty cool people. Like a tame version of what I imagine Burning Man to be, there were bizarre/sexual/hilarious costumes galore. The amount of Halloween spirit was enough to keep me occupied whenever I decided to peruse my surroundings, and I was able to have friendly conversations with literally everyone I stood next to throughout the day. To my great pleasure, I quickly found common interests and established a rapport with everyone I met, and even befriended a contextually rare, 50 year old couple (but they were younger than ever, let me tell you).

As for the lineup of artists, it was quite an eclectic mix. There was not a single genre of music overlooked, and I found myself with plenty of options to satisfy whatever sonic craving I had.

ames Blake, Beach Goth Day 1

James Blake, Beach Goth Day 1; photo Lauren Ratkowski

My day started with the talented quartet of adorable Spanish chicas known as HINDS. As per usual, they played their songs with their trademark brand of infectious, playful, honest joy and passion. Claiming to have been “hungover”, their taut, energetic performance suggested quite otherwise.

With a unique blend of harmonies, angst, melody, and garageness, their songs beg to be moved to, moshed to, sway to, and many other verbs of this nature. Even the relentless beating of the sun couldn’t keep the crowd still, with the Hinds’ staple closer, “Davy Crockett,” sending the audience into a crowd-surfing, mosh-pitting frenzy of spirited joy.

And because good things sometimes happen, the offensively skillful, CHICANO BATMAN followed Hinds. Taking the stage in identical, fitted blue suits, their collective cohesion seemed to exist on a whole other level. And if you’ve listened to their songs before, you know that each instrument, and respective musician, seems to be battling one another in an epic duel for supreme musical glory. For this reason I felt as though they were the most technically impressive performance of the day.

Their stage presence was just so tantalizing and engaging. Frontman Bardo Martinez for instance, when he wasn’t inducing crowd-wide swoons with his serene, soulful, pitch-perfect vocals, played his keyboard with reckless abandon, throwing himself on its keys with a deep, awe inspiring fervor for musical expression. It seemed like their whole set was a sing-along experience, all of us brought together collectively as one, drunk off of their audial divinity. As they left the stage, I made a solemn, unbreakable promise to myself: I will see them again as soon as I am able. For my health.

The next band to completely overwhelm me with sensation was VIOLENT FEMMES, whom I have been waiting to see since the early days of my music-listening career. As one of the stagehands brought a charcoal grill onto the stage to serve as part of the drum set, as well as what looked like the largest brass instrument I’ve ever seen, I knew that this long, 10-year buildup would go on to have exactly no let down. When the band kicked things right off with their radio anthem, “Blister in the Sun,” it became clear that I was right.

The crowd sang along loudly and lovingly for most of the set, as the band effortlessly shredded all the songs you would have wanted them to play. And they were just as weird as you would have hoped, with Gordon Gano often deliberately, tastefully playing wrong notes or dissonant chords, and Brian Ritchie embarking on some truly, unconventionally spectacular bass soloing. In a lineup full of younger acts, this band of 50 year-olds played with more energy and vivacity than most of them combined. Go figure.

Patti Smith, Beach Goth Day 1

Patti Smith, Beach Goth Day 1; photo Lauren Ratkowski

While on the topic of older acts blowing it out of the water, PATTI SMITH was a force to be reckoned with that night. Starting off with a tight, spritely performance of “Redondo Beach,” she made it immediately clear that she doesn’t age like other human beings. There was a youthfulness to her stage presence, an outright refusal to bend to the weight of time.

She and her band played with a strict adherence to perfection, jamming out often intricate compositions with expertly assured ease. It’s also worth mentioning that her discourse with the crowd was the most intimate of any act I’ve seen.

She talked to us with a sense of learned wisdom and a lust for life, at one point demanding we raise our hands high into the air, and proceeding to yell at us, with soul-shaking passion, to treasure the lives we have, not because of what they consist of, but because we get to have them at all. I looked around to proudly see not a single phone in the air, a wholly, unique concert experience in this, the age of Snapchat. She, a 69 year old human being, managed to pull an entire crowd with a mean age of 19, into the pure bliss of the present moment, where social media couldn’t possibly even exist. And not just with the vigor of her words, but with the sounds of her art.

On the heels of her boisterous rant about life, she closed her set with a rambunctious, highly relevant cover “My Generation,” for which she swapped the usual acoustic for an electric guitar, and proceed to belt out a raunchy, fuzzed out, soul-f*cking solo. Truly a sight to behold.

At several points during her set, she split the night with the declaration, “This is the coolest fucking festival ever!” And you know what, after having reeled in the splendor of its lineup and atmosphere, I would have a hard time arguing otherwise.

The English Beat Rocksteady At The Coach House

Dave Wakeling, The English Beat

Dave Wakeling, The English Beat; photo Jackie Butler

“There’s a new dance called the tolerance,” Dave Wakeling sings in the English Beat classic “Sole Salvation,” which he played toward the end of their set at the sold-out Coach House last Saturday night. The relevance of his words were not lost on the audience who responded with a roar of approval. After an election so venomous and so polarizing, and probably more than a few Thanksgivings spent arguing, an evening full of feel-good hits like “Save It For Later,” “Hands Off She’s Mine,” and “Too Nice To Talk To” provided a much-needed escape.

Whether you call it, Ska, Rocksteady, or just plain Reggae, there’s something about its syncopated rhythms and breezy vamping that melts everything else away. Add an invigorating jolt of punk energy and attitude like the Beat did, and you’ve got music made for dancing. Wakeling and the rest of the band put on such a good show, that the Coach House clears out some of its signature tables for a designated dancing area. It was put to good use during favorites like “Twist & Crawl,” “I’ll Take You There,” and the one-two punch of “Ranking Full Stop” and “Mirror In The Bathroom.”

Though Wakeling is the only original member, his beautifully diverse band reflects the message of unity and love that the Beat and the reggae genre have come to represent. Besides that, these guys can play. In their matching Ska polos, they proved a formidable force, from the raging sax solos on “Hands Off,” and “Wine And Grine/Stand Down Margaret,” to the unstoppable groove provided by the dual keyboardists, to the off-the-charts energy of Wakeling’s young toaster. Obviously Ranking Roger can’t be replaced, but this new guy’s a charmer, pulling a less-than-amused little girl on stage during “Hands Off,” and a much more amused middle-aged man after he wouldn’t stop requesting “Ackee 1-2-3.”

As for Mr. Wakeling, he sounds exactly the same, his honeyed, crooner vocals surprisingly intact. He cuts quite the figure with his signature teardrop guitar and his goofy mugging, clearly having a great time on stage. The crowd was even treated to a couple of new tracks off an album set to be released next year, as well as the rest of their favorites like “Tears Of A Clown,” before which Wakeling joked, “It’s not a party until you’ve ruined a perfectly good Motown song…Sorry Smokey!”

The highlight of the night proved to be “Tenderness” which Wakeling actually recorded with General Public, not the Beat—not that anyone cared. An adorable little girl and her mother were pulled up on stage, and everyone was on their feet. No one in that whole room was thinking about anything other than the good time they were having, and everyone left feeling a whole lot lighter.

Where is the tenderness? Go and see The English Beat and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find it.