Local bands push boundaries at Maltese
The Chico music scene is intimate, friendly; like a family. That’s the party line if you ask the local players, and it’s generally true. But that’s not the most striking feature of this community. What’s most inspiring—at least to this longtime observer of the comings and goings—is the general openness to new and different ideas and expressions, and the show last Friday (Aug. 5) at the Maltese offered an eye-opening sample of an engaged scene unafraid of taking risks.
With that said, Friday night did feel like family night at the south Chico bar. Five bands, all local, were on the schedule, playing for a full house of friends and regulars. It was like a party, with plenty of hugs, laughter and energetic back-and-forth between the wide range of adventurous players and an audience that was game for anything.
The night was basically split into two acts: three brief sets of ambient semi-experimentation in the first, and two supercharged bouts of noisy fun in the second.
Cat Depot is the quieter alter-ego of Team Skins guitarist Mathew Houghton, for which he empties his full bag of tricks onto the guitar. When he’s playing plugged in—as he was to kick things off this night—those tricks include the ubiquitous green Line 6 DL4 delay/loop pedal, which Houghton uses to create an intricate looping guitar line as backdrop for each instrumental tune.
Over that bed of sound, Houghton casually went off, tapping, picking, sliding across the strings while also rhythmically thumping the body of his guitar with fingers and palm. It comes across like a one-man band, but with just one instrument being turned into many. It’s complex, gorgeous music built with layers of hooks and melodies to hypnotic effect.
After just a few songs, Houghton was joined onstage by bassist Cameron Harry (formerly of Blaster Dead) and guitarist/vocalist Erik Elliot for the newly formed project Black Magnet. Known for the electronic experimentation of his E.E. solo project, Elliot brought a heavy arsenal of effects units to create a dense wash of dreamy sound. The trio played only a few unnamed songs that were impressively committed to the aesthetic of what might be Chico’s only goth/darkwave band.
After being hyped on genre-blending experimental trio DMT by more than one local scenester, I was disappointed to hear that two members were no-shows. Frontman Rami DMT still put on a brief show, though, sitting cross-legged on stage facing his amplifier and foregoing his usual spoken word vocals in favor of putting a bunch of electronic effects and guitar to use for some wonderfully noisy atmospheric improv.
Bad Mana opened the night’s second act with a palpable fury. Frontman Don Parrish (aka Bran Crown) creates a singular brand of hollerin’ garage rock (think Bob Dylan fronting Thee Oh Sees), and his trio always delivers a spastic good time. But this night was different. The volume was louder than normal, and there was an unspoken intensity among the players—including the frenetic-yet-precise rhythm section of Madison DeSantis (drums) and Elliot Maldonado (bass)—that the crowd responded to in kind with its own wild energy, especially during the stop/start fun of the super catchy “Volunteer.”
The final stylistic shift of the night was provided by the hard-to-peg Tri-Lateral Dirts Commission, and it was a drastic and intense one. Actually, to call the performance intense doesn’t do it justice. A lot of bands in the metal and punk realms that the Magalia/Paradise trio float among throw themselves into loud, fast-paced sets of screaming, emotional catharsis. But Tri-Lateral seems different. After each extended burst of breakneck craziness, the band appeared as calm as can be. Like nothing happened. Actually, its members kind of seem born wild—especially wide-eyed drummer Seabass—as if they’re just doing what comes naturally, which is executing tightly wound, impossibly fast, dramatically shifting thrash without raising their heart rates above 74 BPM.
Overall, an impressive serving of brave and creatively free performances. One that Chico gladly ate up.