Jellyfish on a power line
This year’s Nowhere by Nowhere made last year’s seem like Woodstock.
DNA (AND spelled backwards) gets a high five, though, for bringing “little imports” (as roller derby commentator Dick Lane once quipped) to Chico. Watching the same slew of repeat offenders (no offense to that great band) is like watching Beastmaster 20 times without questioning it, while the local Chico mainstays came out smelling like a rose. I also commend DNA (Delicious Newts & Agouti) for retaining and refurbishing the palatial Senator Theater. Buildings won’t fit in a museum.
On a cold Thursday night, it was freezing in the Senator. DNA (Dark Nougat Authority) explained that the hour-long delay was due to a rotting wood floor around the stage. After weeks of 14-hour days, volunteers had discovered a bed of concrete underneath that needed to be demolished, so a group of people stayed up until 2:30 a.m. and returned at 5 a.m. the next morning, just barely finishing that afternoon.
Upstairs was a gala and erocktic art show, complete with canapés and three-dollar cups of beer. The art was tame enough for the Farmers’ Market: a sunbather with clear-glass bodice, a papier-mâché Maire Antoinette, drowning Goth chicks, a rickshaw turntable stylus on a bed of cheese, guitar picks with coat hangers drawn on them, and an American flag. On a red light oven rack were empty paint cans with speakers inside, emitting backwards German gibberish with cracklings.
I had come to see cello band Bonfire Madigan (scheduled for 8:30 p.m.), but they didn’t play until 11:30. I had to return to the Senator five times. Walking the downtown streets was like being at an estate sale: I was grabbing junk bands while running through all the rooms. If I’d stayed put, I might have nabbed something of value.
At Moxie’s was Fonda, touted in the guide as “thought provoking” and “uncannily beautiful” with “a love of French Technicolor musicals.” Instead, they were Ally McBeal meets the B-52s. New-wave jingles sung a half-tone flat over an old bald guitarist in plaid slacks. Back at the Senator, Toy (who wrote the MTV Undressed theme) had left her electronica band at home for a Billiejack hippie approach. She said she was “glad to be at Northwest by Northwest.” Her guitar was straight Joni Mitchell with tired vocals. Blah.
Moving along, at Duffy’s was the “overwhelmingly emotional sound” of Grub Dog and the Amazing Sweethearts. The gold glitter on the singer’s eyelids was nice. He looked like a Semitic John Fogerty and played a mean Epiphone Casino. The Fogerty/Petty/Young derivations were lean but the vocals weak. Also at Duffy’s was Sacramento’s Forever Goldrush, who might as well have been called the Allman Doobies (sounds like a chocolate bar). This tight band-with weak-vocals-and-songs formula prevailed all weekend long.
Hometown favorite Barbara Manning (who also played the Senator) was a consummate rhythm guitarist (playing a Gretsch Silver Jet with her right fingertips to emulate an acoustic), and her music was lulling and hypnotic, engaging and intelligent, yet not fully realized and seemingly kept at bay. Not at all a “modern-day Janis Joplin,” as described, more like Grace Slick.
Once again, I returned to the Senator, where Radim Zenkl, a Czech mandolinist endorsed by Jerry Garcia, was performing. He’s the Dick Dale of the mandolin. It’s a cheesy fusion of jazzy Eastern European folk tunes with surf/rock bass lines. There was also a touch of Kenny G in his casual dress and wild hair.
Another artist, Madigan Shive, is cute in a young Julia Roberts/ Kyra Sedgwick kind of way. I could see her on MTV. The tasteful violin/cello detuned dissonance was reminiscent of Felix Pappalardi’s arrangements on Cream’s Wheels of Fire. Shive was somehow impressed with Chico’s architecture. Then Bonfire Madigan finally played—an odd blend of sophomoric pretense and assured sophistication.
Later, at Mr. Lucky, I caught the LA punk of the Lazy Cowgirls. The singer looked like a blend of present-day Van Morrison, Jason Alexander and Earl Scheib. The tooth in his ear should have come out years ago. These 60-something punks, with a metal/pop patina, had more energy than all of the young upstarts.
Back at Duffy’s, I’d never seen the Asskickers (rated Chico’s top band) and was pleasantly surprised. The fine vocals (buried until the third song) were like Hank Williams channeled through Joe Bob Briggs. The songs had an authentic ‘50s country-noir feel that undermined originality, but John Lapado’s steel and Ska-T’s leads were sublime.
I returned on Saturday afternoon to witness the metal Bulgarians, but there was a visa problem, so no show.
Stormy’s had lame garage bands, while LaSalles had N-sync co-eds in leather with blue hair and head-mikes. Goth chicks withstood direct sunlight outside the Senator punkfest, while inside LA infidels thanked Satan for letting them use his equipment (they were Fear wannabes, 25 years late). In the lobby, tables of Magical Blend magazine were set up. A guy in dreadlocks told three pink-streaked fat girls “the Epicenter … tonight …Yeah!”
At Moxie’s was Beth Waters, like “Fiona Apple and Sarah McLaughlin,” said her guitarist blithely. The drummer kept whacking the snare, while Beth dawdled with feigned significance, so I looked at her gold lamé ass. She said she was “sad that NXN had to be in Chico.”
Back at Moxie’s, Toy (her third appearance) found a screw in her guitar and commented “at least somebody’s getting screwed.” She said her next song would be “a labor of hate,” so I went to Stormy’s. At least there was a babe showing midriff there.
Back at Duffy’s, Earlimart proffered one-chord raga drones over new-wave snare. Then the much ballyhoed Fiver got a big zero in my book—formless, loud and opaque, like 1,000 jellyfish on a power line.
I was too disgusted and cynical to hang around for the headliners. I caught an annoyingly perky yet flawless set by Picnic, but, obliged to hear the all-new Mother Hips, went to the Senator. It was arena rock right here in Chico—with arms upraised the adoring crowd rushed the stage. A girl screamed, “Dude! They’re kicking ass!!” into a cell phone. They were, but the new pop stylings and vocals were still nondescript and derivative. Didn’t do a thing for me, but they were pros.
I ran home, had a shot and fell into a coma. I dreamed of a band with Chucky-faced fetal creatures springing from their bellies that actually did the playing. They covered one of my songs and did it better. Regis Philbin walked up to me and shook my hand. "So you’re Dan Cohen," he beamed. I tried not to laugh in his face.