The scene is alive

A lively night of tech-friendly indie rock on 1078 Gallery’s busy music calendar

Fresno psych-pop crew Light Thieves at 1078.

Fresno psych-pop crew Light Thieves at 1078.

Photo by Howard Hardee

Light Thieves, Sisterhoods, Solar Estates and Control at 1078 Gallery, Saturday, March 21.

Embracing experimentation is clearly a guiding principle for all four bands that shared the bill on Saturday evening (March 21) at 1078 Gallery. Synthesizers and effects pedals were out in force as locals Sisterhoods, Control and Solar Estates were joined by touring act Light Thieves, and hardly a knob went untweaked. Even the hardest-rocking crew, Control—a brand new group of familiar Chico faces—made extensive use of spatial effects to augment its guitar-driven sound.

This evening of entertainment came on the heels of the Chico City Council approving the gallery’s application for a permanent alcohol license under the premise that selling beer would help the nonprofit stay afloat. And with the 1078’s schedule of live shows beefed up considerably as a result, it appears that the music scene as a whole is going to benefit as well, with an average of two shows a week featuring both visiting and local acts on the calendar for the next month. It’s heartening to have a venue devoted to original music ramping up.

Appropriately, Nikki Sierra, frontwoman for Sisterhoods, toasted to the 1078’s new license before a nearly full house. And her band opened the show with the positively beautiful “Cocaine Babies.” From a fog of ambient synthesizers emerged a shufflin’ indie-rocker that peaked with Sierra’s soulful wail digitally echoing many times over, truly making my neck hairs stand up straight. Throughout Sisterhoods’ set, Sierra and guitarist Loren Weber often sang simultaneously, their distinct registers providing real depth to the harmony. Given their use of both female and male vocals, fusion of pop and electronic elements and general spirit of experimentation, it’s not a stretch to compare Sisterhoods to The Octopus Project, a playfully strange band from Austin, Texas, that makes similarly creative use of analog and digital technology.

Sisterhoods bassist Greg Kodad used one particularly slick gadget in his live setup. First, I noticed that he was barefoot onstage, which, granted, isn’t an unusual preference among Chico musicians. Then I saw he was wearing an individual toe sock on one of his big toes, and said fabric-covered appendage was manipulating a floor-mounted XY MIDIpad—a space-age touch screen that can, among other worthy applications, make a bass guitar sound like a ray gun. After the set, Kodad explained that he crafted the toe sock from a nylon glove for smooth sliding across the pad. (And, obviously, one wouldn’t want toe prints on one’s fancy touch screen.)

Next up was Light Thieves from Fresno. Frontman Mike Adame was a Moog maestro, frenziedly alternating between two synthesizers while delivering breathless vocals. Bassist Erica Salazar, whose instrument might equal her total mass, was also the visually engaging sort, making use of the limited 1078 “stage” space and ripping serious fretboard. The rhythm section overall was rarely based in straightforward rock; drummer Kaleb Saldate went a bit more prog, but he did keep all that swirling psychedelia relatively grounded and groovy.

Control provided welcome oomph to the evening, favoring overdriven guitar and bass rather than old-school synths, and aggressive, borderline metal-style vocals over crooning. (Still, their pedal boards looked as complicated as a space shuttle cockpit, so they were among peers.) It was the first performance for the new group of experienced local players (featuring members of Chico bands old and new—from La Fin du Monde and March of the Mannequins to The Muddy Sours and Shadow Limb). They whipped up an almighty din, but their sound was most characterized by the tonal variety during the calm periods before each storm.

Closing the night was Solar Estates, which includes members of defunct Chico band French Reform. Compared with that group, Solar Estates is—you guessed it—more synth-based. The live sound achieved by the four-piece on Saturday night was pretty much mind-blowing, among the best I’ve heard locally in terms of clarity of instruments. What’s more, frontman Aric Jeffries has developed into the kind of stage presence you can picture people in cities other than Chico paying to see.

Overall, it was a gratifying night at a venue that appears to be moving ahead full-steam, which is perfect, because all these awesome musicians need a place to mess with knobs.