Touch indie, bit heavy

Local bands Surrogate and Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy rock house

Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy guitarist/vocalist Kirk Williams and drummer Jack Gingerich shake the foundations at The Maltese.

Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy guitarist/vocalist Kirk Williams and drummer Jack Gingerich shake the foundations at The Maltese.

photo by melanie mactavish

Surrogate and Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy, at The Maltese Bar & Tap Room, Saturday, Dec. 14.

Last Saturday’s show at The Maltese has stayed with me. It left me with tunes stuck in my head as well as the feeling of having been repeatedly slammed by an extremely slow-moving wrecking ball.

The satisfying bill was split between two local groups: Surrogate, perhaps Chico’s most well-established and well-liked rock band; and Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy, a relatively new supergroup of local musicians, including Kirk Williams, frontman for local metal heavyweights Armed for Apocalypse. It was easy to hear Williams’ influence manifest itself in Touch Fuzzy’s sound. If Armed for Apocalypse is a brutal trudge through a never-ending swamp, Touch Fuzzy adds the experience of screaming across the muddy waters in an air boat. That is to say, sludge metal is the common sound, but Touch Fuzzy is more inclined to break up the swamp-stomp with equally aggressive up-tempo riffage and even a few melodic interludes.

Williams and fellow guitarist Matt Shilts (of Into the Open Earth) shared lead-vocal duties, with bassist Adrian Hammons (Cold Blue Mountain) backing them up in key sections. Drummer Jack Gingerich of The Shimmies rounds out the quartet.

Williams, who for his metal purposes can sound like a particularly agitated blood-thirsty demon, also has the ability to sing beautifully (as he’s demonstrated via his singer-songwriter persona, Lish Bills). And while he mostly favored the former delivery this evening, there were several instances in which he sang clean, which, along with Shilts’ more traditional rock vocals, provided an interesting contrast during the set.

I thoroughly enjoyed Touch Fuzzy’s extensive, super-rockin’ instrumental sections (à la Mastodon), which were made all the more powerful by their head-banging enthusiasm. The group had also clearly put some thought into transitions between songs, which made for about 45 minutes of uninterrupted noise.

Though I’d heard Surrogate’s music prior to Saturday night, I had never seen Chico’s preeminent indie-rock band play live. After the release of their most recent album, Post-Heroic, this past spring, I became somewhat obsessed with a pair of their recorded songs—the title track and “Lovers”—both catchier than most pop-rock that makes its way to mainstream radio. And judging by how many in attendance were drunkenly singing along, plenty of Chicoans are clued in as well.

Best of all, Surrogate’s particular brand of indie rock has balls. They were just as loud as Touch Fuzzy, vibrating the bar-top while commendably sacrificing nothing in the way of sound clarity. “Blank Page” and the aforementioned “Post-Heroic” were particularly satisfying, likely because they both involved walls of fuzzy guitar noises. And though the more mellow numbers were plenty somber and sweet, frontman Chris Keene’s reedy vocals—similar to those of Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard, minus the emo affectation—were best served with some muscular rock ’n’ roll accompaniment.

After the show, the band handed out copies of The Bookmark, a new local music zine edited by Keene and Shilts. Keene’s introductory column explains that the 12-page booklet is intended to “highlight the best [music] this city has to offer.” Inside, there’s an interesting piece on what it means for a band to get signed to a record label these days (through the lens of local metal group Cold Blue Mountain), as well as a look at Armed for Apocalypse’s success following the release of their latest album, The Road Will End, and their subsequent tour of the UK.

Another note: The Maltese is currently in the middle of transforming into an even more music-friendly bar, and so far, the changes—especially the new stage lights and beefed-up sound system—are good. And while I briefly lamented the loss of the shuffleboard table that used to run along one of the bar’s walls, the swank booths that replaced it go a long way toward a more comfortable show-going experience.