The Secret Stolen: Keeping Chico’s music scene hot
With its crab cakes and pancakes topped with dried cranberries, Café Coda doesn’t immediately come across as a hipster nightspot. But several nights a week, the live music shows up, and the little warmly lit neighborhood café becomes the improbable place to be.
And for the Friday night CD-release party for Chico’s The Secret Stolen, the crowd was stocked with young fresh-faced couples, expensive-looking emo haircuts and a ton of Chico rockers (of all ages, it turned out). I felt a little old going in to this show, but not because of the youthful vibe I encountered. Rather, I carried with me a preconception that, because it had been so long since I’d really been moved by a local rock show, one of two things had happened: I’d become one of those myopic, “in my day” old-timers I generally loathe, or the local music scene had actually become a less exciting place than it used to be.
After experiencing the night’s thoroughly relentless and thrilling musical attack of The Secret Stolen, I was proven embarrassingly wrong on at least one of those counts.
I have always liked The Secret Stolen, and have appreciated how well the band presents its hyper, somewhat noodly version of post-rock. But all qualified praise I may have handed out to the band in the past was made moot by how thoroughly the band had arrived on this night. Simply put, in this one reviewer’s estimation, The Secret Stolen is the best thing Chico has going.
The Secret Stolen always runs at a full sprint, and this night was no different. Despite the pace, guitarists/vocalists/brothers Cameron and Nolan Ford somehow fill every tiny space with a seemingly impossible barrage of notes. But, much like one of the band’s forebears in the form, former Chico duo The Americas, the complexity is put to work toward making dynamic rock songs. In fact, on that front, The Secret Stolen handily outstrips its predecessors by never wavering from an all-aboard focus on bringing the audience along for the ride. As the opening screaming chords and relentless percussion of “It’s Purgatory"—the second song of the set—kicked in, the plate-glass front windows started fogging up from the room’s body heat.
The focus is on movement, and “It’s Purgatory” moves dynamically in ways that had me reminiscing about the hallowed days of ancient Chico greats like Land of the Wee Beasties. Melodic verses moved into the heavy groove of the sing-along chorus ("When you say that everybody knows / What it feels like to be alone"), then into noisy, driving bridges and, best of all, thrilling razor-sharp breaks that stop the action only to drop you right back off the cliff.
Any residual commonality born of influences that The Secret Stolen shared with the emo/screamo set are gone. So too (for the most part) is the mathy guitar wankery solely for the sake of mathy guitar wankery. It’s all powerful, committed, meticulously crafted rock now.
The same praise did not apply to the first few tunes by the night’s previous band, Sacramento-turned-San Francisco crew Brilliant Red Lights, however.
After openers The Shimmies finished their subdued set, with the three Galloway brothers being joined by the two Ford brothers from The Secret Stolen for an uplifting rendition of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” Brilliant Red Lights plugged in some brilliant multicolored lights and turned things up considerably.
The trio’s set started off with a couple of exercises in very complicated mathematics and though there was sufficient volume and enough energy to make the prog-ness somewhat palatable, my eyes quickly glazed over.
Thankfully that action was only for the first quarter. BRL turned into almost a completely different crew for the rest of the set—one that rocked anthemic through a run of fast-paced rockers and, joined by a fourth member on the mini Micron keyboard and extra percussion, some power-packed dance numbers, including a fun, rocking interpretation of Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best.”