Deaf jams

Fist-pumping clichés on full display at 1078 Gallery

Vocalist Eric McGuire and guitarist/vocalist Eric McCauley of Strange Habits.

Vocalist Eric McGuire and guitarist/vocalist Eric McCauley of Strange Habits.

Photo By matt siracusa

The Deaf Pilots and Strange Habits, Friday, Oct. 11, at 1078 Gallery.

I was intrigued by The Deaf Pilots’ CD-release show at 1078 Gallery last Friday (Oct. 11), with openers Strange Habits. A quick look online revealed that both local bands are made up of dudes in their mid-20s, have the distinction of not playing heavy metal (a welcome change), and seem to have earned decent local and online followings.

Furthering my interest was the fact that The Deaf Pilots’ ReverbNation page described the band as an “energetic throwback to the times of psychedelic rock.”

So, a group of friends and I made a night of it. We stopped by the newly opened Winchester Goose for beers (awesome on all counts), then popped into the 1078, just up the sidewalk, to check out the show.

We arrived at 9 p.m., when the show was scheduled to start, but the gear was just getting set up. We killed some time and came back about 30 minutes later. Strange Habits was into their set when we returned, and it was readily apparent why they have made fans in Chico. Their college-party-friendly blend of ska, funk, punk and hip-hop (not unlike Sublime) seems tailor-made for Chico house parties. What’s more, vocalist and frontman Eric McGuire clearly draws inspiration from Brandon Boyd of Incubus, and the timbre of his voice is eerily similar, as well.

Guitarist Eric McCauley’s playing was a little lost in the mix, which was a shame because from the looks of it, he was tearing it up. Bassist Brett Sparrey and drummer Sheel Doshi played excellent supporting roles, avoiding attention-grabbing wankery. The same cannot be said of McGuire. At the conclusion of Strange Habits’ set, he leapt and grabbed hold of the lighting rig above the stage, and hung there as the modest crowd of a few dozen politely looked on.

It came across as forced and unnatural, like he was going through the motions expected of a rock frontman by pandering to the end-of-set rule of going bat-shit crazy and throwing a guitar through a drum head or doing something equally edgy. There are crazy shows that call for genuine, over-the-top antics, but hanging from the light fixture, in this case, was out of place and fell flat inside the art gallery.

Prior to his band taking the stage, The Deaf Pilots’ vocalist and guitarist, Derek Julian, armed with an awesome Gibson Explorer, proceeded to soundcheck by shredding our faces off. It was clear the young guitarist was a disciple of Eddie Van Halen, and had the guitar chops and tone to match. In fact, the three-piece—bass (Chase Crawford), drums (Ryan Fairley) and guitar—seemed intent on matching Van Halen’s level of rock-cliché exploitation and farcically masculine guitar-wielding. A friend of mine summed it up nicely when he leaned over to quip, “This is what Tenacious D would sound like if they weren’t funny.”

It’s not that I’m opposed to bands that have no intention of reinventing the wheel. In fact, I like rolling with the wheel. I’ve drawn an immeasurable amount of pleasure from music—new and old—that follows basic rock formulas and has fun playing off clichés (and, to be fair, the band’s heavy-riffing “Where You Run”—a blues-based track in the vein of Australian band Wolfmother—did stick with me after the show).

But something more than formula is necessary to keep my attention; namely, the unique personality of the performers has to shine through to make the music stand out, and The Deaf Pilots’ cliché personality of cocksure swagger does little to separate them from the crowd. (Maybe I’m just disappointed that there was no hint of the promised psychedelia.) I will concede, though, that they do possess the kind of attitude that lends itself to a fist-pumping, college-party setting, which is exactly what they’re probably shooting for.