A fresh start
New Year’s party with new Chico bands
For its New Year’s Eve “blowout” at the Chico Women’s Club, community radio station KZFR deftly and gleefully straddled the line between the old and the new by featuring four local bands that indulge in the nostalgia of earlier eras of rock ’n’ roll while simultaneously delivering new permutations of rock’s infinitely recombinant DNA.
The Women’s Club setting—with its polished wooden floor, French-doored back patio, tiled veranda and velvet-curtained elevated stage—still has the ambiance of its 1933 vintage, and it provided a nostalgic vibe that buffered the journey into 2016.
Arriving unfashionably early, I enjoyed sipping a Black Velvet and Coke from the small mobile bar at the back of the room while chatting with pre-band DJ Mattle Axe (aka local graphic artist extraordinaire Matt Loomis), who indulged my early evening nostalgia by punching Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine” into his playlist.
Kicking off the live-music festivities with a blast of young, raw power rock was trio Cell Block, led by guitarist and vocalist Kenzie Zevely-Howlett, whose effects-laden guitar sound blasted through a suitably loud Marshall half-stack. The band lived up to its Facebook description as “Goth (wannabe Joy Division, but not too much like them).” The rhythm section, bassist Aidan Sobon and drummer Sawyer Goodson, punched out solid, somewhat hyperkinetic rhythms and bottom end to support Zevely-Howlett’s huge guitar sound and emotive vocals. Her comfortable interaction with the audience and the band’s playful, histrionic rock-star moves and tightly rehearsed songs easily won the crowd over.
With the energy in the room suitably elevated, self-described “queercore, riot grrl, punk rock” trio Pink Bandana—made up of Chico punk veterans bassist/vocalist Rachel Love (aka Rache Riot), guitarist Puck James and Cell Block drummer Goodson—took over the stage and gear. Puck, fetchingly clad in a sparkly miniskirt, black leggings and sleeveless top, churned out riffs and power chords reminiscent of Steve Jones’ seminal punk rock hooks for the Sex Pistols, and Love’s woman-at-the-end-of-her-rope vocals and pummeling bass lines backed by Sawyer’s straight-ahead drumming inspired the crowd to move.
Solar Estates, for me the most surprising choice of music-makers for the night, brought an entirely different vibe to the stage. With three of the electro-pop ensemble’s four members playing keyboards as well as the usual guitars and bass, the group generated a sound familiar to fans of 1980s British techno-pop in the flavor of Depeche Mode or OMD. Very well-conceived and -executed, but, also in the mode of its forebears, a bit dour for a New Year’s Eve. In other words, a very brave and challenging choice for second billing for this event and one that underscored the open-to-anything nature of the Chico scene.
But—this being a “blowout”—a genuine barnstormer of a finale was needed to blow us through the midnight transition from last year to this, and the perfect choice to do so arrived in the form of Skin Peaks, featuring the members of Bunnymilk (drummer Elliot Maldonado, guitarist Lisa Hiatt and lead vocalist Kelly Brown), plus The She Things’ bassist/vocalist Kerra Jessen. The fairly new band has developed a unique blend of old-school rock ’n’ roll, surf-punk, ambient guitar textures and gorgeously emotive vocals. What may have seemed an unlikely hybrid of the punkabilly exuberance of The She Things and the more contemplative and ghostly Bunnymilk, turned out to be a perfect sonic cocktail, the equivalent of Jack Daniels and Irish cream with a floater of Everclear. A luxurious and powerful new blend—just the thing for toasting in a brand new year of musical possibilities.