DIY punk and surprises

Throwback: Record store shows rarely feel like actual shows, with the band awkwardly playing in the corner through a reverb-drenched sound system and the audience half-listening while browsing through records. This wasn’t the case last Thursday for the Bananas’ Phono Select gig, which felt like a throwback to ’90s DIY punk rock shows. The store was completely packed—too packed for anyone to do much in the way of shopping. And since it was after-hours with a $5 cover charge—like a real show—everyone was there to hear some music.

The Bananas have been together for more than 20 years and don’t play often. So, when they do, they try to make it special. They blasted through pop-punk tunes with more enthusiasm than technique and screamed their heads off through every song. While their songs in no way sounded like hardcore—there was too much joy going on—they played as fast as humanly possible, and then seemed to try and play them even faster.

A big highlight at any Bananas show is silly banter, and there was plenty of it at Phono Select. During one song, guitarist Mike R. Mike forgot to play his solo, so the other members cajoled him into starting over. The enthusiastic audience got in on the banter as well—song requests, jokes, rebuttals to Bananas’ jokes and random questions for band members, which they were happy to answer. The best slice all night was from Mike, which pretty much sums up the Bananas’ silly ethos: “Well, we’re still a $5 band after all these years.”

—Aaron Carnes

Defying expectations, again: The musical enigma that is Contra got even more confounding this month with the release of its first-ever EP.

This is the band that claims to not really be a band. That might be because the members all have other projects they care about more, or maybe they think it makes Contra more interesting. They also insisted for years that Contra would never release an album, that there was no desire or motivation to bother.

Well, something changed, because they bothered. Or, Kris Anaya, Dusty Brown and Zac Brown bothered. Without any announcement—or even fully informing their fellow bandmates—the trio quietly recorded and produced a five-song EP, I Heard Your Cousin Has Street Fighter II. Contra released it at a Harlow’s gig on February 12 and it should be available to stream online soon.

If you’re a Contra fan, you’re probably aware that the band had three demos floating on its rarely updated website from long ago. One of those songs, “Forget,” made it onto the EP. Anaya refreshed it with his airy, droning vocals and thundering drums engineered by Robert Cheek, the Sacramento expat who recently worked with locals such as Life in 24 Frames as well as national acts such as Band of Horses. It’s a definite improvement, and all the songs sound great for such an on-a-whim production. I only wish the synth played a more dominant role on certain songs to drive home Contra’s ’80s power-pop sound.

But it doesn’t really matter. Contra doesn’t care. Anaya and the Brown brothers don’t have any financial gain in mind. Just listen to “I Don’t Give Two Shitz.” I Heard Your Cousin Has Street Fighter II feels like a bone for the fans, something to keep them occupied until the next live show but will never satisfy in the same way. Still, it’s appreciated.

Festive: The second annual, all-local First Festival takes place June 18-19 in Southside Park, and the lineup is finally here. More than 40 bands are on tap to perform across three stages—a big step up from last year’s 18 acts—with an emphasis on rock, indie, metal and folk genres.

Quite a few 2016 Sammies nominees will be there (P.S. have you voted yet?), including headliners Epsilona, Tell the Wolves and Drop Dead Red, plus Humble Wolf, A Mile Till Dawn, Andrew Castro and Honyock. Tickets for First Festival are on sale now at $30 for a single day and $50 for the full weekend. Grab them at

—Janelle Bitker