Drinking in the scene

Another fine local music showcase at Duffy’s

A familiar scene at Duffy’s Tavern with Donald Beaman (left) and Ken Lovgren of the Spirit Molecules.

A familiar scene at Duffy’s Tavern with Donald Beaman (left) and Ken Lovgren of the Spirit Molecules.

Photo by Crystal Gardner

Donald Beaman and the Spirit Molecules, Empty Gate and XDS, Saturday, March 4, Duffy’s Tavern.

Chico’s live music scene is bursting at the seams with a wide range of locally crafted original material, and the eclectic, three-band bill at Duffy’s Tavern last Saturday night (March 4) provided a revealing snapshot of the scene these days.

Taking the stage below sparkling multicolored twinkle lights, with Duffy’s iconic backdrop of the bat-swinging Jesus and large painting of a luxuriating blonde, The Empty Gate guitarist Bob Howard kicked off the night by inserting the metallic/insectoid opening riff of “Hypnosis” into the room’s ambient soundtrack of clinking glasses and chatter. The band’s midtempo groove was filled out by bassist Mark Zempel, keyboardist Greg Spont and drummer Matt Coogan, creating space for Trish Howard’s voice to lead the song to anthemic heights that filled the room with exuberant rock ’n’ roll energy.

No less a local icon than the bar itself, the longtime Chico rocker possesses and projects that rare type of personable charisma that disarms and engages audiences. So when she sings a song with the refrain, “We’ll fuck like stars tonight,” with both the humor and the aspiration of the lyric riding the surging rhythm of a rising multiorgasmic riff, it brings a joyous response. The band closed the set with a high-velocity, power-pop tune called “The C,” and left a nearly full house visibly happy.

With the audience warmed up and the space now comfortably crowded, XDS (formerly Experimental Dental School)—a duo composed of Jesse Hall on guitar and assorted electronic devices and partner Shoko Horikawa on drums—took the stage to deliver a set combining sonic exploration with tribal primitivism. Hall is a master of wringing complex multitones from his guitar, treating the sounds with an array of effects boxes. While the band’s self-descriptions of “synth damaged psychedelic disco punk” and “Casio keyboards making out with acid” do convey some sense of its cosmic playfulness, there is a depth to the sonic craftsmanship that takes the concept of “fun music” to levels attainable only by an incredible attentiveness to detail. In short, it takes a lot of work to create music that appears so effortlessly fun.

The night’s final set, by Donald Beaman and the Spirit Molecules, provided a gentle comedown from the danceable rock of the previous acts. Beaman (guitar/vocals) is a specialist at creating pleasantly moody, slightly downtempo songs that pair well with slowly nodding and sipping a beverage amid the warmth of a mixed group of friends and strangers in a dive bar. It’s the kind of music that might provide a perfect late-night soundtrack for sitting on a moonlit porch after a recreational smoke or listening on headphones while bicycling through Bidwell Park. However, it’s a challenging style to communicate to the chatter-filled confines of a barroom full of those whose consumption of “spirit molecules” may have disengaged them slightly from the action.

But Beaman and his crew of ringers—guitarist Ken Lovgren, drummer Michael Nalin and bassist Kirt Lind—were occasionally able to draw the audience in with a particularly poignant guitar line or emphatic drum pattern that would burst through the placid surface, quiet the crowd, and bring them close to gently float off into the cold night.

Another great evening that offered further proof that Chico’s music scene is something special these days. There are so many varying manifestations of hard-working original talent playing regularly all over town—at Duffy’s, The Maltese, Lost on Main, the DownLo, 1078 Gallery, Argus Bar + Patio, Monstros Pizza, etc.—that one could go out every weekend for a year and likely find something new on a local stage every single time. Drink it in, Chico.