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

Starry Nites Music And Arts Festival

Starry Nites Music And Arts Festival; photo Joey Pedroza

Remember going to outdoor festivals, perhaps camping overnight, discovering the magic of music outdoors surrounded by nature? This review of Starry Nites Music and Arts Festival took place over a weekend in 2017.

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.

Flashback 2015: The Devon Allman Band Rips Up Coach House

DEVON ALLMAN BAND

DEVON ALLMAN BAND played The Coach House Sep. 9

With all live concerts on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to re-run this Devon Allman concert review from 2015:

There was a moment on Wednesday night at The Coach House, when bluesman Devon Allman (yes, of those Allmans) left the stage, wandered through the crowd, ordered a drink, came back on stage, took a swig, launched into a towering solo. The crowd may have come out of curiosity, wanting to see if Gregg Allman’s son has any chops, or because they were fans of his dad’s old band, but in that moment, it was clear the people in the crowd were going to leave as fans of Devon Allman.

Allman took to the stage all in black, and used the same guitar the entire show. His band also has an understated presence. They’re unassuming looking guys, but boy do they know how to play. Students and purveyors of the blues, they ripped the lid off of one song after the next, ranging from Allman’s days in Honeytribe and Royal Southern Brotherhood, to his solo albums and covers.

The opener, “Half the Truth” off of Allman’s latest album, Ragged and Dirty, set the tone for the night. A real southern foot-stomper with a menacing guitar riff, it got the crowd’s attention. It wasn’t until the fourth song, an instrumental jam that Devon really began to show his stuff. He put on a clinic, making the guitar shudder and cry. He brought it down to a whisper, then rammed it back up again, looking out at the audience as if to say, “What about this?” The kid came to play.

Showing respect for blues hero Eric Clapton, the band played an impressive cover of “Forever Man,” and even payed tribute to Allman’s heritage with wonderful covers of “Melissa,” and “One Way Out,” a blues standard made famous by the Allman Brothers Band in the 70’s. Interestingly, it was the band’s cover of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” that was the real showstopper. The iconic song had everyone swaying, and the band played it with just as much soul as the original. Bobby Schneck Jr., the band’s other guitar player played one of those solos that could make you cry, then Allman brought it home with a solo that went so quiet, he had the crowd hanging on every twitch of this finger.

The band played until midnight, taking a short break which thinned out the crowd to nearly half, making the small setting even more intimate, and appropriately bluesy. The band closed with “Midnight Lake Michigan,” a “spooky blues” instrumental track that Allman introduced by addressing the crowd, saying, “Thank you for supporting real music, made by real people, not drum machines and robots.” The crowd hooted in approval, as Allman made his way through the crowd mid-song, shaking hands and playing another transcendent solo. If you want to see a great guitar player, go see Devon Allman.

Lights Out Cells Up!

UFO's Phil Mogg; photo James Christopher

UFO’s Phil Mogg; photo James Christopher

After 50 years of hard rocking, hard touring and presumably hard living, UK’s UFO are calling it a day. No more short stops in towns around the globe, living out of a suitcase, or climbing on and off a tour bus. Fifty years. That’s right – fifty!

UFO (l-r Vinnie Moore, Phil Mogg); photo James Christopher

UFO (l-r Vinnie Moore, Phil Mogg); photo James Christopher

But, Feb. 21, 2020, UFO rocked the Tally Ho in Leesburg, VA and they rocked it hard. The only way they know how. They captured the audience the moment they heard the opening notes of “Mother Mary”.
By the way, this was one heck of a loyal audience. They refused to let a chilly 31-degree (and dropping) night keep them from going out and packing the venue, lining up around the block in two directions before the doors were even open. I doubt anyone has been following the band for 50 years, but hearing people talk, the majority have been fans for many, many years. And they were excited to be there!

UFO's Andy Parker; photo James Christopher

UFO’s Andy Parker; photo James Christopher

All through UFO’s classic set – “Lights Out,” “Only You Can Rock Me,” “Too Hot To Handle,” “Rock Bottom,” to name a few – everyone listened intensely, savoring every memorable note, following every lyric, one last time. The split second a song would end, the crowd would roar with satisfaction and elation.

I’ve seen UFO countless times and once again the epic “Love To Love” which is usually referred to as “Misty Green and Blue” took the audience to a whole new level. The back and forth of Vinnie playing acoustic and electric, the highs and lows of the melody, all teasing the inevitable badass solo, that is NEVER long enough.

UFO's Rob De Luca; photo James Christopher

UFO’s Rob De Luca; photo James Christopher

This night, Phil Mogg took the stage looking exceptionally dapper wearing a stylish hat and polka dot blazer, which he removed halfway through the third song, not missing a beat, of course. He later joked about all the rock star moves he knew including microphone twirls. He even pushed Vinnie Moore to join him in sucking in his cheeks demonstrating the ultimate rock star pose.

UFO's Neil Carter; photo James Christopher

UFO’s Neil Carter; photo James Christopher

As the night was nearing the inevitable, Phil mumbled a few words negating the point of leaving the stage and coming back for a couple more songs. Instead, Vinnie teased the gentle opening notes of “Doctor Doctor” and then, right on cue, both the band and the audience exploded into an orgasmic, fist-pumping, rock-n-roll frenzy.

One more song to follow – “Shoot Shoot” – and it was all over – turning the night into a bittersweet but satisfying memory.

Porcupine And MC50 Rock The Night

Porcupine; photo Moses Choi

Porcupine; photo Moses Choi

Being a product of the 70s, Hüsker Du’s Zen arcade was a part of the soundtrack from my youth as a teen. So, a chance to see Porcupine with Greg Norton on bass was something I couldn’t pass up on… oh and they were opening up for the MC50.

Greg Norton, Porcupine; photo Moses Choi

Greg Norton, Porcupine; photo Moses Choi

Without much fanfare as the crowd shuffled in, Casey Virock (guitar/vocals), Ian Prince (drums) and Mr. Greg Norton plugged in and rocked the hell out. Now I’m not going to lie, I’ve never heard Porcupine before and I had no idea what to really expect other than Norton’s thundering bass.

Casey Virock, Porcupine; photo Moses Choi

Casey Virock, Porcupine; photo Moses Choi

Sure enough the goods were delivered. Virock’s guitar melodies and vocal layers gave the perfect mix for Norton’s gritty lead bass style while still being modest to the punk roots. I couldn’t even spot a set list. They were seasoned veterans winning me over with each song.

Norton is still limber, lightning calloused fingers, sweating bullets and still looking badass with his handlebar mustache. By the time the set was over the floor was filled with eager fans for the MC50, showing respect to Porcupine for a standout performance.

MC50; photo Moses Choi

MC50; photo Moses Choi

MC50, not to be outdone, came out blazing and full of energy. Holy shit, I felt like a kid at a circus. Watching them deliver song after song with everything they have is like a Blues Brothers show on acid. This is what rock-n-roll is about.

Wet But Wonderful Reggae Fest

IRATION; photo Andy Ortega

IRATION; photo Andy Ortega

One Love Cali Reggae Fest held its 4th annual 3-day music festival once again at the grounds next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach. This year there were returning bands and artists such as Iration, Pepper, Stick Figure as well as some new bands on the rise in the reggae scene.

Arriving to the festival grounds is pretty easy since there were plenty of lighted signs directing you to the surrounding area where there were several parking structures. If you arrive during the day, don’t hesitate to head for the main parking area since it’s not crowded and easy to get into. Once you’re parked, there’s a short walk to the shuttles that run every few minutes to take you over the bridge to the peninsula where the event is held.

Once at the entrance, there is strict security which has become the norm at any large event – even at events called “One Love”. In any case, you’ll be glad to know that there’s many precautions made by the One Love event team to be sure we have a good time while being safe. Although you’ll see people getting wasted on various concoctions at any music event, it’s reggae and it’s such a chill environment with families and even children and babies! Be sure to read the list of prohibited items before getting into the festival since I did see someone getting their bottle of booze confiscated.

Inside the festival, you’ll find plenty of ways to satisfy your hunger, thirst or shopping desires. There was food provided by restaurants and food trucks such as The Jamaica Place, Fat Dragon, and The Pink Taco truck. Just about every band had a merchandise booth so you could dance the night away in your favorite artist’s T-shirt if you wanted to.

ATMOSPHERE; photo Andy Ortega

ATMOSPHERE; photo Andy Ortega

February in SoCal usually brings rain, and this year it rained each festival day and I was able to spot out the newbies pretty easily. They wore white canvas shoes with insufficient tread and not enough upper body clothing. I’m glad you feel cute, but the One Love Festival is serious business and you’ll need to prepare for partying in cold downpours. I’m talking hiking boots and multiple layers, plus a hat or even better, a beanie and gloves. On the first night, I wore two thermal long sleeve shirts and a hoodie, but I was still cold. Hey, we’re Californians and we forget how cold and rainy it gets in February sometimes.

Hiking boots will give you special privileges and abilities at this festival. There are pockets of muddy and slippery areas even though the event staff laid out some turf material over much of it to prevent slips – I still saw people fall in the mud and everyone would cheer (and help them up of course). It was awesome. But with hiking boots, you can walk right through muddy areas where no one else dares venture. You can have your own private area in the middle of a giant puddle if you want!

There were a few performances that really stood out for me this year. While Dispatch isn’t quite reggae, their show on Saturday afternoon was filled with energy and it was contagious. Iration never fails to attract large crowds. As their set began, even though I wasn’t anywhere near the front of the stage, my personal space dwindled away with more and more people trying to move closer until I could barely move without bumping into someone. Another artist that turned lots of heads was Atmosphere. He’s a rapper from Minneapolis and he doesn’t mumble. You can actually understand everything he says, and you’ll love it. Atmosphere took the energy at One Love and turned it up about three notches. We needed it too because it was freezing but there’s nothing like being next to the California ocean, palm trees silhouetted against the sunset and rocking out to your favorite artists.

Bauhaus Summons Fans On Rainy Night In Anaheim

Peter Murphy of Bauhaus; photo James Christopher

Peter Murphy of Bauhaus; photo James Christopher

Prancing and preening, Peter Murphy, currently sporting an admirable gray goatee, gave Bauhaus fans exactly what they desired with his stage antics bringing each song to life. He was completely locked in from the opening strains of “Double Dare”, which kicked off the main set that featured In The Flat Fields in chronological order.

It may have been pouring rain outside on a Wednesday night in SoCal, but the Bauhaus faithful didn’t let that stop them from showing up and they were rewarded tenfold. This was the first night of the US portion for the 40th anniversary tour and the band was on fire!

David J and Peter Murphy of Bauhaus; photo James Christopher

David J and Peter Murphy of Bauhaus; photo James Christopher

David J, with his signature fair hair and dark shades, was back in the fold and his style of playing bass brought an element to the songs not easily duplicated. His nimble fingers picking and strumming his fretless bass through the set of songs he helped create 40 years ago.

Mark Thwaite effortlessly played the guitar riffs and melodies Bauhaus fans know so well as he has many times over the years with Murphy. I couldn’t see who was playing drums, but he captured the recognizable drum patterns of songs such as “Nerves” throughout the night.

Peter Murphy of Bauhaus; photo James Christopher

Peter Murphy of Bauhaus; photo James Christopher

Murphy’s voice was extremely strong, recreating all the hooks and nuances of every song, while simultaneously moving about the stage. He never stopped moving the whole night. At times he reminded me of a caged predator, a feral cat at the San Diego Zoo, pacing back and forth in its cage. The stage was his cage and he covered every inch of it as he transformed from one character to the next, subtle clothing changes included.

Peter Murphy of Bauhaus; photo James Christopher

Peter Murphy of Bauhaus; photo James Christopher

His command of the audience grew with each song, captivating and mesmerizing, as the second set kicked in with eight more beloved Bauhaus songs including, “She’s In Parties,” “Silent Hedges,” “Dark Entries,” and the granddaddy of them all, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. Seldom played in its entirety, often as part of a medley, tonight Murphy gave it his best. The crowd went insane as his sinister glare, piercing blue eyes, and otherworldly stance mimicked the iconic vampire while chanting the lyric “Undead, undead, undead”.

Peter Murphy of Bauhaus; photo James Christopher

Peter Murphy of Bauhaus; photo James Christopher

All night the lighting on stage captured the atmosphere of the music, often awash in shadow and dark colors yet, each member was spot lit just enough that you could engage in what was happening. The sound mix was reliably superb as is standard for the Grove of Anaheim.

“Passions Of Lovers” began the first encore followed by the T. Rex classic “Telegram Sam” and Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust”.

Murphy spun, pranced, paced and captivated the audience for 90 minutes ending with one last haunting encore of Dead Can Dance’s “Severance”.

Jonty Balls of Desert Mountain Tribe; photo James Christopher

Jonty Balls of Desert Mountain Tribe; photo James Christopher

But earlier, before Bauhaus delighted us, kicking off the night was the English psych band Desert Mountain Tribe. I was thrilled to see they were on the bill and they were fantastic. The crowd was drawn to the music from the very first song, their energy and hypnosis sucking them in. The trio had a perfect, full sound, all instruments mixed together nicely.

Shouts of “What’s the name of your band?” could be heard by the second song and finally singer/guitarist Jonty Balls said something along the lines of, “Got off a fucking plane two hours ago. We’re from London. We’re called Desert Mountain Tribe.”

Matthew Holt of Desert Mountain Tribe; photo James Christopher

Matthew Holt of Desert Mountain Tribe; photo James Christopher

I don’t think anyone caught the name because after a nice, long, trippy instrumental bit that spellbound the audience, I could hear more shouts of, “Who are you? You’re amazing.” A couple cornered me and asked me point blank the name of the band, which they repeated back to me a few times until they got it.

If they really did arrive two hours before hitting the stage they must have been running on pure adrenaline, playing their songs seemed second nature because they were tight and got more amped as their set continued.

Frank van der Ploeg of Desert Mountain Tribe; photo James Christopher

Frank van der Ploeg of Desert Mountain Tribe; photo James Christopher

By their last song, “The King” which builds nicely for five or six minutes, the guitar reaching sonic proportions to the groove laid down by the bass and drums, the crowd was ecstatic and cheered enthusiastically.

Goth meets Psych. A seamless transition to the new millennium.

If you’re a fan of Bauhaus, you can still catch them in L.A. at the Novo Feb. 28 but arrive early to catch Desert Mountain Tribe. You’ll be glad you made the effort.

Darkwave Rolls Through L.A. Courtesy Of Felte

PUBLIC MEMORY; photo James Christopher

PUBLIC MEMORY; photo James Christopher

Nestled among the dark, quiet residential neighborhood just west of the 110 freeway in downtown L.A. lies the Pico Union Project and scene of Felte Records two-day celebration of live music featuring bands on their roster.

The historical synagogue was the perfect setting both architecturally and atmospherically for the music that was performed.

DEVON CHURCH; photo James Christopher

DEVON CHURCH; photo James Christopher

I got there early to catch all four bands on Day 2 and found a spot in one of the pews to kick back and watch Devon Church. His haunting, sexy, heartfelt songs were the perfect way to start the evening. Their minimal sound was full, hypnotic, easing you to drift away while nodding to the dirge-like rhythm. Offsetting the lead singer/guitarist was the keyboardist dressed in striking red from head to toe.

PUBLIC MEMORY; photo James Christopher

PUBLIC MEMORY; photo James Christopher

A DJ took over the music during a quick set change while people got up off their pews and began to fill the floor in front of the stage for Public Memory. They were rewarded with a surprisingly energetic set albeit too short.

Always in constant motion, it was hard to take your eyes off Robert Toher as he moved between his keyboard and the microphone simultaneously jumping and dancing as he sang. Holding the mic with one hand and gesturing with the other or playing a tambourine or shaking the hell out of a maraca he frantically moved around the stage, giving his all to the music.

The addition of a live drummer truly added another dimension to this dark, comforting, weird, unusual music. His tight rhythm patterns absolutely complimented the songs I knew so well. I appreciate a drummer that doesn’t hide behind the splashing of symbols.

PUBLIC MEMORY; photo James Christopher

PUBLIC MEMORY; photo James Christopher

There was another keyboardist who was often mouthing the words while he energetically danced and played, head bobbing, body bowing adding yet another dimension to the effects and noises, odd patterns and overall strangeness.

This was one of the bands I particularly came to see and clearly, I was not alone. Shouts of “yes” and screams of recognition could be heard as the first note of nearly every song began.

Speaking to a fan after their set she said, “These guys are like me.” She completely connects to their music.

They left us wanting more.

RITUAL HOWLS; photo James Christopher

RITUAL HOWLS; photo James Christopher

Ritual Howls was the other band I was looking forward to seeing. The floor was still packed which told me that they were also highly anticipated by the rest of the crowd.

RITUAL HOWLS; photo James Christopher

RITUAL HOWLS; photo James Christopher

Right from the start the band seemed to have sound issues on stage but from the audience side of the stage it was a joy to hear so many of the songs live after hearing them through car speakers for a couple of years!

RITUAL HOWLS; photo James Christopher

RITUAL HOWLS; photo James Christopher

Paul Bancell’s familiar guitar hooks and melodies were clear as a bell as were his deep vocals. Ben Saginaw’s pulsating basslines and Chris Samuels’ synth samples and drum machine drove the songs, at times there was a distinct dance groove. Somehow the melancholy feel of the music often makes me think of a spooky Joy Division and yet Ritual Howls has their own very recognizable sound.

ODONIS ODONIS; photo James Christopher

ODONIS ODONIS; photo James Christopher

Odonis Odonis closed the night with their hypnotic, industrial trance music. Synth-driven by Constantin Tzenos and Denholm Whale. Drummer Jarod Gibson stood between them banging out rhythms on an electronic drumkit and/or snare drum. I wasn’t familiar with the group, but their deliberate mesmerizing beats and synth sounds won me over, at times reminiscent of Nitzer Ebb.

ODONIS ODONIS; photo James Christopher

ODONIS ODONIS; photo James Christopher

Felte Records is the rare type of label that if you like one, or even two bands on their roster, chances are you’re going to like more. I wish I could have made it to both nights because I’m sure I would have discovered a lot more!

The Mowgli’s Come Home!

THE MOWGLI'S; press photo

THE MOWGLI’S; press photo

The Mowgli’s stormed The Constellation Room last Sunday, playing to a sold-out crowd, along with support from some of their local friends. A devoted audience was there from start to finish, with plenty of band and audience interactions peppering each band’s set.

First up was The North Morlan group, a laid-back indie band hailing from the city of Orange. Led by the younger brother of Mowgli singer/guitarist Colin Dieden, their songs about love got the crowd rocking and singing along in no time at all.

Elijah Noll took the stage next with his unique brand of soul-tinged alt pop. He was full of nervous energy, it being his first tour and all, and launched into one song after another. Despite admitting the drummer and him had just started playing together, they were a tight duo who demonstrated their ability to communicate through the music. The new track “Poison” got plenty of cheers from the crowd who seemed to already know the lyrics to it.

After this came the infectious sounds of Arms Akimbo. Playing a high energy set full of the catchy melodies people love them for, the audience danced faster with this new pace. And they in turn seemed to get a kind of fuel from this enthusiasm. The group never let up either, perfectly setting the stage for the band that was to follow.

At last, The Mowgli’s stepped up to the plate. The crowd went wild with glee as they launched into their first song, “Bad Dream.” At times, it was impossible to tell who was singing the song; the band, the audience, or both! On tour in support of their new EP I Was Starting To Wonder, their set was comprised of fresh new tunes sprinkled with favorites from their past albums.

THE MOWGLI'S; photo Cortney Armitage

THE MOWGLI’S; photo Cortney Armitage

The inclusive nature of The Mowgli’s music was on full display, as the vibe in the room was as if this was one giant band rather than one performing in front of an audience. The group was even relaxed enough to tell a joke, told by singer Katie Earl, “A peanut was walking down the road and it was assaulted.” While making fun of themselves for such a bad joke, everyone loved it none the less.

Their new song “Real Good Life” received just as warm of a reaction as their more well-known songs as well. When they played “Say It, Just Say It”, the audience exploded into jumping fits while still managing to sing every word along with the band.

Overall, it was a fantastic show showcasing the optimism of the local scene, which The Mowgli’s have been a large influence on. Make sure to scoop up their new release, I Was Starting To Wonder, as well as the music from these up and coming bands.

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.