Baghdad ain’t so bad
Local punk rockers the Baghdad Batteries keep it together for the love
Nick’s Night Club was comfortably crowded, particularly on the dance floor, during a recent Baghdad Batteries show. The music blasting from the stage was bouncy, punky and, well, happy.
Vocalist Justin McBurney riled up the audience by getting right to the edge of the stage and taunting them with rhetorical questions and a deranged smile. His jaunty beard suggested he’s older than his 25 years. McBurney seemed to speak for the crowd with expressive delivery of lyrics and a clownish demeanor, and the audience members answered in approval as though at a rally.
James B. Lively lived up to his name—thrashing the drums, arms raised with each rebound of the sticks. The 24-year-old’s disheveled Mohawk and missing teeth gave Lively an added ferociousness that belies his sweetness and sensitive nature. Cody K, the 25-year-old guitarist, filled the room with distortion, his frantic strumming arm the only part of him that moved, while 20-year-old Ami Rose demurely stood on the other side of the stage playing bass.
I was drawn in, suddenly bouncing along with a sweaty, good-natured crowd. The front row knew all the words to the songs, and it worked together perfectly—nothing else needed, just an energetic live band.
The Baghdad Batteries are firmly rooted in Chico.
In 2005, Lively had been working at The Underground only a few days when he spotted McBurney browsing the bins wearing the shirt of a little-known punk band.
“I saw Justin in a Smut Peddlers T-shirt,” Lively recalled. “I love Smut Peddlers. I didn’t know anybody who liked them at all, so I thought, ‘No way! We’re starting a band.’ “
The Smut Peddlers, an obscure straight-ahead punk band from Los Angeles, have a sound reminiscent of the late ‘70s. “Every song is a rant,” explained McBurney, “a rant that you can dance to.”
The description could fit the Baghdad Batteries’ sound as well—strong, in your face punk rock, at the same time melodious with wonderful bursts of energy.
Lively had a vision of this band. He invited McBurney over to his house, and they watched the Ramones documentary, End of the Century, which became sort of a touchstone to their new allegiance as band members.
They eventually hooked up with guitarist Nick Walker, practicing their songs at Walker’s parents'. That formation would be short-lived as Walker had plans to move to Portland, Ore., for school. Before he left, the band quickly booked its first four gigs.
The Baghdad Batteries went through some personnel changes (including a short stint by Shankers guitarist Johnny Shanker on bass) before bringing in Cody K and Rose, both members of longtime Red Bluff-based punk band Kids With Headlice.
McBurney said he looks back on End of the Century as a part of the philosophy for the Baghdad Batteries.
“The documentary on the Ramones is a truly Shakespearian tragedy,” he said. “But it showed us that if those lunatics can do it, well then why don’t we try and do it.”
It’s fitting that the band’s only recording is a live one. On stage is where The Baghdad Batteries rule. They have found captive audiences whether playing the small, punk-friendly confines of Monstros Pizza, or the larger, 21-and-over Nick’s Night Club.
In fact, at the show I attended, the audience out-bounced the band. Dancing kids pogoed with fists raised, singing along with the amplified rantings of McBurney, who twisted his body around the microphone stand.
The Baghdad Batteries have no upcoming recording plans, and since the proximity of band members is separated by more than an hour’s drive, the future is uncertain.
But it’s arguable just how uncertain. Like a lot of local punk bands in Chico, the Baghdad Batteries have survived nearly three years as members have come and gone. Maybe that Ramones’ documentary really has stuck with them.
Besides, even if a member ever does decide to leave, there is likely to be someone to step in—whether they like it or not, as was the case with the bassist.
“Cody told me I didn’t have a choice,” explained Rose with a laugh. “He said, ‘You have to be in this band.’ “