It’s getting hot in here …

A look back at the diversity of Chico music happenings in 2002

Looking back over the year in music, I’m struck by the incredible variety and quality of our local music scene. My personal list of attended concerts and shows ranges from rock royalty such as The Who and Tom Petty at the AutoWest Amphitheater, the Isley Brothers at Oroville’s Gold Country Casino, super-legendary Willy Nelson at Feather Falls Casino, and local favorites Mother Hips and The iMPS at the resurrected Senator Theater.

Indeed, the most daunting thing about glancing back over the year is realizing that, as long as my list is, I really saw only a tiny portion of the year’s musical happenings.

With a strong and vital scene that offers so much diversity that it’s impossible to keep track of it all, Chico continues to deliver pleasant surprises at a phenomenal rate. For instance, I’d never have guessed that North Carolina’s ambassadors of pure party spirit, Southern Culture on the Skids, would ever wind up hitting the boards in Chico, much less at the elegantly appointed Sierra Nevada Big Room. But hit them they did, creating one of the most raucous and rocking parties it’s ever been my privilege to attend, even if I didn’t get hit by a piece of flying fried chicken or engage in any wrestling matches on stage. Doing the boogaloo to the sounds of Rick Miller’s Southern-fried guitar licks in the middle of a writhing crowd of like-minded music lovers was enough to butter my biscuit for months.

And at an opposite—though just as excellent—extreme, there was the truly phenomenal sonic explorations of Drums and Tuba, delivered to a packed and rapt audience from the tiny stage at Duffy’s Tavern, an intimate venue that consistently brings in acts as far-ranging as puckish troubadour Jonathan Richman and most recently hosted a CD release party by local cowpunks The Asskickers that proved the band’s name is no idle boast.

For those willing to take a chance on bands they’ve never heard of, DNA at the Senator Theater delivered two of my favorite shows of the year: one by the Germany-based performance art/dance band, Chicks on Speed, and one by Japan’s X-Girl, three female musicians who displayed some of the most amazing musical skills and precision ensemble playing and singing that I’ve ever seen or heard. Neither band played to a packed house, but the few of us who attended owe a debt of gratitude to DNA for bravely and doggedly forging the Senator into a performance space that isn’t afraid to take a chance and present acts that are as far from the usual as you can get.

Also providing access to music one might not expect to hear in small-town America, Chico Performances, usually presenting concerts at Laxson Auditorium, continues to present an international array of musical talent ranging from classical concerts to chanting Tibetan monks to Canadian gypsies. La Bottine Souriante, the aforementioned band of gypsies, played a unique blend of world music that ranged from hot jazz to French folk-balladry, and even if you couldn’t understand the language of the lyrics, the spirit of their music came across loud and clear and joyous. Also, Laxson Auditorium is one of Chico’s most comfortable and acoustically refined venues for enjoying any musical event.

Though less comfy than Laxson, downtown’s Brick Works also fills a vital role in providing top-notch touring acts a stopover and allowing fans to catch major bands up close and personal. Of the several shows I caught there this year, the standouts were the righteous pairing of Nashville Pussy and Reverend Horton Heat, which was a packed and rowdy affair complete with crowd surfing and frenzied moshing in mid-July, and more recently The Soundtrack of Our Lives and The Cato Salsa Experience, who played to a smaller, less animated crowd but dished up some of the most finely played, highly electric rock I’ve ever been lucky enough to catch.

Keeping the party alive, LaSalles continues to book dance-oriented local and touring bands and once in a while a tribute or comeback act to lively up our memories of eras past. Larger Than Life, a KISS tribute, had a full house yelling along the refrains to more than one classic rock masterpiece.

The real nitty-gritty for developing local talent is the small-club scene, and Chico is blessed with several places that nurture Chico’s homegrown bands. Stormy’s Off-Broadway consistently books local musicians ranging from flat-picking prodigy Sid Lewis to singer-songwriter Dan Cohen. And just a couple of doors away The Red Room is presenting multi-band lineups nearly every night, often with a fresh punk flavor.

Around the corner at Moxie’s Café you’ll encounter everything from touring indie-rockers, local noise rockers and strumming balladeers, while over at the recently refurbished Towne Lounge you’ll catch events as diverse as Matt Hogan’s open jam nights and full-on punk onslaughts from the P.A.W.N.S.

Chico’s small-club/new-music scene seems to be going through yet another reflowering, so I have no fears for our town’s musical future.

This year has been a constant and highly diversified parade of great musical events, and 2003 holds the promise of being even greater. All you have to do is get out and enjoy the music.