The scene is all right
A hot night of great, local music at The Maltese
The Maltese, that cute little brick-red concrete bunker in South Chico, has, over the past couple of years, become a favored venue for catching live music performances by both local and touring purveyors of original music. The intimate setting, well-stocked and -staffed bar, cozy booths and especially the recently enhanced sound system make it a great place to get a handle, or at least an ear, on the latest developments in Chico’s musical underworld.
Last Saturday’s show—featuring all local bands Bunnymilk, Los New Huevos and The She Things—presented a cavalcade of styles beginning with the eerily resonant plucking of Kelly Brown’s electrified banjo rising through and above the sea of bar chatter generated by the capacity crowd. Brown and her Bunnymilk partner, Lisa Marie, use predominantly banjo, electric guitar and their own intertwined vocal harmonies to generate a ghostly, dark, molasses-slow ambiance of ethereal romance tinged with regret and hope. My only regret for them on this particular outing was that a large portion of the crowd was geared up for punk rock and spent most of the Bunnymilk set buying drinks and yammering among themselves rather than appreciating the beauty that was swirling about them from the velvet-draped stage.
Following a brief interlude of stage reconfiguration, Los New Huevos—a conglomeration featuring members of local punk bands Severance Package, Zabaleen, The Pushers and Nogoodnix—blasted off a flurry of old-school, Brit-flavored punk rock. Fronted by vocalist Jimmy Lo and his blazing-eyed-madman performance style, the band churned up a pit-worthy maelstrom of bashed chords, smashed cymbals and vehement, buried-in-the-noise lyrics. Exactly the proper mix to get a punk-hungry crowd to hoist their cans of PBR and howl approval at the end of every pile-driven two-minute song. The finale, a cover of Spizzenergi’s 1979 classic, “Where’s Captain Kirk,” was a fitting tribute to the band’s roots in the tradition of punk—fusing humor, energy and intelligence in songs you can simultaneously pogo to and laugh about.
Bringing the night to a fittingly resounding and celebratory climax, Chico’s latest—and at this point only—all-woman, punk-a-billy power trio, The She Things, quickly reset the stage and grabbed the welcoming crowd’s enthusiastic attention with their opening number, “Make-out Monster,” a Ramones-flavored rocker with sassy lead vocals by bassist Kerra Jessen, with support from guitarist and co-singer Christina Burnham, and solid-as-a-rock drummer Chelsea Tucker. The song set a high bar for both the fun meter and the musicianship of the rest of the set, and each tune that followed met or exceeded that expectation.
Drawing on influences ranging from 1950s girl groups, old-school rockabilly and American punk and proto-punk, with resonances of the early B-52’s, Ramones and The Cramps, The She Things are rock ’n’ roll fun personified. The power-trio configuration allows plenty of space for the instruments and vocals to interact in a high-voltage mesh and the bare-bones, joyfully libidinous energy of the songs directly hit the foot-stomping, hip-swaying, life-embracing centers of the brain in irresistible waves.
Refreshingly not tied to any specific genre, The She Things’ songs vary in style and feel, from the comfy, mid-tempo surge and beach-punk rootsiness of “Peach Comb” to the ominous sway of “Rock Bottom Roll,” to the twist-worthy rock beat and updated bratty girl-group fun of “Shitty Summer.” All delivered with gleeful, fun-fueled precision by three women who have obviously done their due diligence practice-wise, and whose joyous camaraderie makes their band a genuine joy to behold.