We sing the city eclectic
Chico’s music scene cleans house in 2004
This past year the changes in the Chico music scene were greater than normal, and looking back at 2004 reveals a music community in flux.
The biggest transformation was on the live-venue front. Chico’s always losing and gaining venues, but in the past year we lost four of the most popular—the Bean Scene, Brick Works, Stormy’s and Riff Raff—and gained only one in return. The old Wild Hare/Bullshooters is now Off Limits, and the live calendar has added local bands to the touring punk, metal, rap and rock bands that used to come through Riff Raff, as well as kept some of the bar-band regulars its predecessors specialized in.
The closing of the Brick Works also coincided with the reopening of a re-polished Senator Theatre. Entrepreneur/realtor Damon Fadale took over management of the old beast of a building with a packed opening weekend that featured two of the better shows of the year—indie-superstars Modest Mouse and jam masters The String Cheese Incident—only to bow out after a few months to return to a saner life as a husband and father.
Former Brick Works promoter Justin Maximov, who moved over to the Senator with Fadale, has continued putting on an irregular stream of shows there with his J-Max Productions, including recently Boise guitar gods Built to Spill as well as heavy-bleeding monster-rockers GWAR.
Chico lost just a few bands in 2004—notably Standard, Indecisive Youth, the Dik Diks and most famously, Electric Circus, who played several “last ever” shows before officially busting up at the Stormy’s going-away party—but the pool was restocked several times over. There’s been a huge influx of new bands—Nothing Left, West by Swan, Indomitable Iron Sloth, Botchii, Berkow ‘n’ Becca Band, Aubrey Debauchery, Gorgeous Armada, Brain in a Cage, Red With Envy, Squirrel Vs. Bear and Birds of Fire—that have begun to play regularly and, along with some of the regulars like Bearhunter, the Americas, and Goldmind, made an impression on reviewers throughout the year.
The biggest loss of the year was felt with the passing of Chico music icon Danny West. The irascible scratchy-voiced blues/honky-tonk/rock-and-roll singer-pianist was a fixture in the local music scene for nearly 25 years. While the passionate pursuit of life’s pleasures took its toll on the man, that spirit remains at the heart of the music community he left behind.
Many of the familiar faces kept their profiles high, especially local music instructor and bluegrass jammer Sid Lewis. Lewis and his band Crazygrass toured around the state playing at various festivals, while his Acoustic College continued churning out local talent like modern rockers Muff’n and high school duo Electric Betties. His Jamming 101 class was even featured on a National Public Radio broadcast.
Other hot locals on the move: The interminably touring Number One Gun jumped from Floodgate Records to über-emo Touch and Go Records. Americas drummer Casey Deitz joined the Velvet Teen and toured all over the States and Japan. Sierra Nevada promoter Bob Littell and his video/sound crew of Peter and Anita Berkow, Sloan Tash, Bob Tolar and Dale Price got the Sierra Center Stage series of live Sierra Nevada Big Room shows onto PBS. DNA’s Saturday night Downtown Music Revolution and the DCBA’s Friday night concert continued the free downtown concert tradition. And the Asskickers, Chingus, Mossy Creek, Nothing Left, Josh Funk and Danny Cohen all released new CDs this year.
One thing that never changes in Chico is the steady stream of great touring acts that comes through this little college town. Most of the credit for this goes to the promoters who stick around and keep the flow steady. Of course Sierra Nevada and Bob Littell and Chico State’s Chico Performances and Dan DeWayne bring in the bulk of the heavy hitters, and 2004 was no exception. Just a partial list of the sold-out brewery shows includes Rodney Crowell, Robert Earl Keen, Mose Allison, Southern Culture on the Skids, The Waifs and Karrin Allyson and two blistering nights from Australian acoustic guitar innovator Tommy Emmanuel.
Chico Performances featured no less than the annual World Music Fest, Ani DiFranco, Branford Marsalis, David Byrne, Arlo Guthrie and the dynamic Angelique Kidjo inviting the audience onto the Laxson Auditorium stage to join the party.
North Valley Productions also brought in its share of great performers (Bruce Cockburn, Christine Kane) to various venues, and Chico State’s School of the Arts continued with its quality North State Symphony series, with especially memorable performances of The Wilds of Europe in the spring and this past fall’s A Night in Italy and The Titan.
The smaller spots in town, however, had some of the hottest shows of the year. Duffy’s had the occasional rock show (Jonathan Richman, Carlos Guitarlos) to go along with the Pub Scouts weekly jam; LaSalles kept the students dancing with tribute bands and ‘80s nostalgia (Tainted Love); and Moxie’s and Fulcrum continued bringing in the best touring underground fare with The Microphones, Kill Me Tomorrow and Sex With Girls is Rad passing through the former and Experimental Dental School, Hawnay Troof and every local punk/indie/ emo band conceivable wearing down the rug in the latter.
And, before the Bean Scene shut down in October, Bobolink Music had the club hosting the hottest experimental/jazz/bluegrass/jam-rock shows in town (San Andreas Experiment, Jessica Lurie) nearly every night of the week.
There were plenty more memorable visitors scattered around town: Death Cab For Cutie at Chico State, George Jones at Gold Country Casino, The Breeders at the Brick Works and my fave, Schoolyard Heroes, at the Riff Raff, where there were more photographers on assignment from local papers than actual audience members. As I explained in my review, “Where a lot of bands will ease their way into genre blends, Heroes grabs at metal, punk and even opera dynamics with both hands and crosses in and out of each with gusto.”
And, as I also said, "You missed it."