Escape from Citrus Heights

Josh Martinez and a filthy pig.

Josh Martinez and a filthy pig.

Photo by Josh Fernandez

Birthday girl: It was Heather’s birthday, and she was onstage last Friday with the Private Criminals at the Fire Escape Bar and Grill. She needed a tambourine, because she was too hoarse to sing and too stiff to dance. Her eyes tracked wildly like a thunderstruck Price Is Right contestant. A humane person should have told her to “come on down,” but instead her girlfriends shouted encouragements.

Private Criminals play a clean-cut funk, à la Maroon 5, but Heather wanted something different. “It’s Heather’s birthday,” said singer/guitarist Nick Matteis. “And she wants Weezer.” He covered “Say It Ain’t So.” Matteis had a scarf slung round his neck and, like the rest of the band, appeared recently liberated from braces. He shambled through the guitar solo in an appropriate indie-rock fashion. Perhaps the Maroon 5 thing is a phase. Know hope.

The guitar and drum duo, the Animations, used Heather’s name in their pop-punk songs about jail-bait sex and decking a bull dyke. Heather was on stage again, whispering to the singer. He bore a passing resemblance to Vince Vaughn and made numerous insinuations, all of them phallocentric in nature. The crowd ate it up—even the young lesbian couple in attendance. With Pabst Blue Ribbons at $2 a pull, much can be forgiven. (Jeff McCrory)

You missed it again, stupids: Hold on. The Fire Escape’s not all indie-boy bands with pubeless nads. A last-minute Monday night show at “the miniature Boardwalk” proved this fact, and made for an incredible evening of music.

When my girlfriend and I arrived at the Citrus Heights club, we immediately noticed the friendly door guy. It was Travis Chance, singer and guitarist for punk outfit Lessons in Failure. It’s a bad sign for the world when you’re actually surprised that people aren’t assholes, but Chance turned out to be the friendliest door guy since mellowed-out Patrick Swayze in Road House (before he started kicking ass).

Amador County’s Aquifer.

Photo by Josh Fernandez

Inside the club, Amador County’s Aquifer was onstage delivering an engaging performance to the modest Monday night crowd of about 75 people. Nick Bianco, Tommy Fox and Brannum Goldsmith came through crispy clear, using their voices as instruments, rather than delivering a flat, static rap performance. Nobody asked me to throw my hands in the air or say “Ho!” Much appreciated.

Actually, the theme of the night was using the emcee’s voice as an instrument. And Portland’s Chicharones were shining examples of this effect. Josh Martinez and Sleep are the Kid ’N Play of people who, well, aren’t Kid ’N Play. Their combination of chemistry, timing and cadence, and ability to maximize their voices is a lesson in hip-hop showmanship.

Their deejay, Zone, dressed in a suit and a pig mask, was definitely the most skilled turntablist I’ve seen in some time. He cuts words and sounds with freakish precision. Seriously, the guy wasn’t wearing headphones and he was dripping with sweat from his mask but hitting every cue and doing solos like Angus Young’s urban cousin.

Emcee Sleep rhymes fast but avoids sounding like “that guy who rhymes fast.” Instead, his vocalizations are melodies that convey drama and tension. Watching the two excited and excitable emcees perform was like watching hip-hop history and future simultaneously. Martinez’s singsongy, Jack White-does-doo-wop rhymes were funny but not corny, serious but not melancholy.

And to top it off, Martinez, Sleep and Z-one performed a magic show right in the middle of a song.

I’m going to say it: It was the best hip-hop performance I’ve seen in the past five years, which includes Del the Funky Homosapien, DJ QBert, Bus Driver, DJ Z-Trip, Dead Prez, Grouch and Eligh, Souls of Mischief, Ghostface Killah, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Nas and that one fancy dude from the movies.

Please, I beg you: Since you couldn’t make that show, and I know you couldn’t because there were only like 75 of you dickwads there, go to and get into this band. (Josh Fernandez)