Saved by the Oly

Out-of-town indie-rock bands melt down inside the Blue Room

HOT ROCK <br>Bassist Toby Vail (left) and lead guitarist Sarah Utter of KRS recording artists The Bangs braved hell to rock a Blue Room crowd.

Bassist Toby Vail (left) and lead guitarist Sarah Utter of KRS recording artists The Bangs braved hell to rock a Blue Room crowd.

Photo by Tom Angel

The Bangs, Arnica Sync, Cowboy, Lil’ Suicide Bunny
Blue Room, Monday, May 21

Aided by a cold can or two of Olympia beer, indie-rock fans survived the heat of Chico’s Blue Room Monday evening as three local bands and one touring act, The Bangs, played to over 50 fans beneath a single ceiling fan. Unfortunately for Bangs followers and lead guitarist Sarah Utter, her Fender guitar struggled with the heat like family from out of town who swear they don’t know how you can stand living here.

The nine o’clock show began right on time, with Arnica Sync taking the stage at 9:40. Together only a few weeks, Kelly Bauman, guitar, Dan Greenfield, guitar, Casey Dietz, drums, and Conrad Nystrom on bass, pieced together a 20-minute set opening with an instrumental Bauman refers to as “The First Song” (all four songs they played are untitled). Dietz hammered steadily as Nystrom provided the groundwork around which Greenfield finessed his leads. The result was a dramatic mix that at times had me thinking of The Cure. Catch them at Moxie’s on June 17 and see how they are evolving.

After the intermission, I picked up a cold Oly to enjoy with the next act. Cowboy is Jason Cassidy, guitar and vocals; Connie Cassidy, keyboard and vocals; Brad Nabors, guitar; and perhaps the only one working harder than that lone ceiling fan, bassist Conrad Nystrom (who just completed a set with the opening group). After playing together for nearly three and a half years, the members of Cowboy seem to have developed the kind of chemistry that has players feeding off one another. A couple of examples include the interplay of C. Cassidy’s and Nabors’ vocals on a duet whose title was not announced, and their use of dynamics, especially during J. Cassidy’s solos. Cowboy’s tunes ranged from in-your-face howling to hushed guitar effects that dragged on in some places.

Lil’ Suicide Bunny wins best band name on the bill, but due to a missing drummer who was at home sick and was supplanted by recorded drum tracks, I couldn’t help feeling a bit short changed. Sean Proctor’s vocals and guitar combined with Heather Legsdon’s bass sounded unbalanced and incomplete. Perhaps in an attempt to cover for the missing third, they overplayed, at times drowning out the drum tracks altogether.

Proctor kept up an amiable rapport with the crowd, telling us the drummer couldn’t make the gig because “he was riding a bike for cancer somewhere.” Voice samples of Johnny Cash, Homer Simpson and Pauly Shore played between songs helped to lighten the mood. In retrospect, the Bunnies might have faired better had they gone first or billed themselves as the unplugged, cool-down band, instead of trying to keep the fire going.

With my Oly warming and vomit breath forming, a long forgotten side effect of cheap beer, Bangs’ drummer Kyle Ermatinger clacked his sticks together and Maggie Vail’s bass and Sarah Utter’s guitar got things going again. Opening with “Train Wreck” off their latest release, Sweet Revenge, on the Kill Rock Stars label, The Bangs quickly moved into the title track.

Shortly into the third song, Utter halted the music and announced, “I’m sorry, I can’t cope with this heat, I just broke a fucking string.” Dressed in black canvas tennis shoes, black socks and skirt and orange soccer shirt perhaps combed from the racks of Goodwill, the petite, platinum pony-tailed lead singer replaced a string while Vail and Ermatinger improvised for a similarly dressed audience. A few minutes later, Utter apologized and told us her guitar was going to be out of tune all night.

“When it [guitar] gets in the heat it melts,” she said.

Different than their recorded sound—a blend of early Runaways and Pat Benatar’s evil twin—The Bangs, a recent Nowhere X Nowhere participant, offered a glimpse into their talent during their last tune, "Maggie the Cat," a fast-paced, girl angst number that had the crowd bobbing. On their way home to Olympia, Wash., the group is just two dates from completing a tour that had them in Sacramento the night before and Portland the next night. No doubt they were glad to get back to the cool Northwest.