Bright Light Fever
Bright Light Fever credits producer Joby Ford with taking “a ragtag team of misfits” and turning it into a band. The result? An indie fourtet that’s pushed through label challenges to round out a DIY brand of rock-making. Their most precious asset is their van, says guitarist Matt Ferro, without which the band wouldn’t be able to make its name known nearly every week in some local venue. Their goal? According to Ferro, “I guess in hopes of becoming somebody’s favorite band.”
Th’ Losin Streaks
Four years ago SN&R contributor Dennis Yudt declared Th’ Losin Streaks “best rock ’n’ roll band in Sacramento.” This holds true today: Nobody in town wields an ax like Mike Farrel; Tim Foster keeps the songs lively and gives them melodic in unparalleled fashion; and Matt K. Shrugg and Stan Tindall piece it all together and move it forward like nobody’s business. All the while, the garage-band fouresome keep their tunes fresh, energized, both by being tight and crafty, and also because they’re performers—jumping, throwing sticks, guitars, mics even—and that’s more than you can say for 99 percent of bands in town.
Chelsea Wolfe says that she and the other members of Red Host, Ian Bone and Jess Gowrie, are just three quiet and laid-back people who just happen to like Queens of the Stone Age and Sonic Youth and playing loud music. Yet for all of their pulse-pounding performances, Wolfe says Red Host has some recordings that are a little more, well, unique. Apparently, Bone can play “a mean harpsichord,” while Wolfe has been known to get down on the autoharp. To top it all off, Gowrie plays the recorder. They’re just little things that the band members have picked up over time, sometimes finding their way into the studio, Wolfe says. Asked if their special instruments ever make it into their set, Wolfe can only laugh and say no. After all, how does one rock out on a recorder?
SN&R Showcase: Blue Lamp, July 3, 8p.m.
For the Snobs, playing a show is like getting together with a bunch of old friends. “I’m sure some of our friends don’t even like our music, but they come to hang out,” says guitarist Andrew Marks. That friendly sort of vibe is what keeps the Snobs playing despite the distance between band members. Marks, who lives in San Francisco, says living away from Sacramento makes it hard for the band to do normal band things, like practice, for instance. “We’re not the most professional band in the world,” he says. “It’s just about making music with your friends.” Currently, the Snobs are working on an album they hope to have out this year, their first since 2004’s Stepping Large, Laughing Easy.
SN&R Showcase: Harlow’s, June 11, 8p.m.
Them Hills plays an aggressive blend of rock and pop music that many bands have emulated ever since Chuck Berry, says singer/guitarist Dan Elkan. What sets them, uh, hills, apart is a perceived sense of debt, both to the greats who paved the way for them and to the listeners. The debt is so great that, if the Sammie award came with $1 million in prize money (which it doesn’t, by the way), Elkan says he’d want to give most of it away to various charities. But it’s easy to give a Bono-esque response to a fictional windfall, so when pressed, Elkan admits to dropping some coin on the band first before doling out most of it to the needy. After all, if you’re going to pay a musical penance, you might as well sound good doing it.
SN&R Showcase: Blue Lamp, July 3, 8p.m.
Hard Rock/ Alternative
Aroarah is Lydia Gavin, Chelsea Baker, Morgan Knuester and Mackenzie Knuester: four girls who rock. They’ve played Arco, opening for My Chemical Romance, which they cite as a turning point. Aroarah has been playing their hit song “In Dreams” for over four years, but when singer Gavin began the a cappella intro and the Arena crowd sang along, it was inspiring. “There are only some times we get an adrenaline rush, and that was one of them,” the band says. They won “Best Out of Area” band at the ’06 Southern California Music Awards. Let’s see if Sammie shows them some love this year.
Fifty days of gigs: The Boardwalk, June 6, 8 p.m.; Cesar Chavez Plaza, June 20, 4:30 p.m.; Club Retro, July 12, 7 p.m.
Power trios rule! It’s a tragically under-used lineup these days, mostly because there’s always safety in numbers. Every other jagoff with a guitar can half-ass his way through a set when there are five other people on stage to drown him out, but in a trio, if you don’t have the skills, there’s no place to hide. Of course, there are really just two genres that can exploit the strengths of the trio—jazz and rock, and in case you forgot what category you’re reading, Automatic Static plays the latter. Guitarist and vocalist Zac Diebels, bassist Matt Frank and drummer Kevin Prince clearly soaked up the lessons of power-trios past—listen for the riff fundamentals of Rush, the balls-out joy of Thin Lizzy and the harmonic intricacies of Kings X.
With a debut album, The Eyes of Tomorrow, available since last September, the sextet Broken Iris, formed in 2005, seems like a relatively new entity on the scene. Central to the band’s pensive, symphonic sound is the way Adam Roth’s vocals intertwine with Alex Ashton’s cello lines; that sonic element is anchored by guitarist Danny Cocke, keyboard player David Christiansen, bassist Paul Avery and drummer Chris Brawley. The music, tailor-made for dark, rain-drenched videos, landed the band a spot opening for the Dave Matthews Band via a KWOD contest win. Broken Iris describes its music as ambient rock; well-crafted prog-revival rock might be closer to the mark.
Middle Class Rut
Zack Lopez (guitar) and Sean Stockham (drums) are a two-man band, but that label’s very limiting—especially when you consider how these guys miraculously manage to turn a guitar and a drum set into a full orchestra. It’s breathtaking to hear the rich sounds they make—rivaling Jane’s Addiction for texture and Rage Against the Machine for intensity. And they’re getting serious radio play right now. Not that radio play is everything, but a quick listen and you’ll understand the buzz they’re getting. With lyrics that are meaningful without sentimentality and a sound that’s hook-heavy and simple, but not simplistic, these guys have stumbled upon a formula that carries beyond Sacramento.
One Dying Secret
One Dying Secret drops a new album in June at the Underground in Roseville. Their first album, Hopeful Visions for Intriguing Tragedies, came out in ’06, but since then they’ve tinkered with the lineup, including bringing aboard new singer Ryan, who told SN&R that when playing live, “for 45 minutes I forget who I am.” According to him, music is simple. “It just helps me and my family stay sane,” he offered. “It’s more or less therapy. It’s an amazing form of expression and at the same time very gratifying and time consuming.” One Dying Secret reps the outskirts of the Sacramento region, where SN&R traditionally hasn’t kept up on the latest bands. But with these guys, we’re going to take notice.
These guys have nearly unintelligible handwriting, but I think they say something like this: “We write and record music for individual reasons but as a whole … our love of this art form … Adam (McIntire-Hull) brought his voice, Nick (Kellermann) brought his keys and bass, Jonny (Shidler) brought his drum kit and Elvis (Le) brought guitar—then we rocked shit! … Our best musical assets would be our different backgrounds and the way it unfolds on stage. … Every show has been our most important and every time it feels right to be on stage—no matter how big or small. … We’re waking people the fuck up and our sound is one we believe is original as fuck.” What they say is true. These guys put everything they have into their live show, which is a bit of hip-hop and a lot of insane rock music. It’s all crazy energy—kind of like whoever’s handwriting that was.
SN&R Showcase: Press Club, June 18, 8 p.m.
Fifty days of gigs: On The Y, June 28, 9 p.m.
Dance Gavin Dance
Dance Gavin Dance’s Downtown Battle Lost hit the streets May 15, so this is as good a time as any to catch the band showcasing their latest tunes. Their sound? Well, songs like “Antlion,” off Downtown, is a polished, alt-hardcore wonder, the offspring of Battles, Refused, and even Linkin Park. The boys—Kurt Travis, vocals; Jonathan Mess, vocals; Will Swan, guitar; Zachary Garren, guitar; Eric Lodge, bass; Matt Mingus, drums—recently toured with the Locust and Poison the Well, but their new album should have them firmly seated in the headliner spot by the end of ’08. See them soon; L.A. may steal them.
Enemy Inside drummer Dennis Perez wants you to know that the group’s brand of metal is made for adults, kids and … Jesus? Not really, but “if he does come back, we’re playing a set in his honor,” Perez says. Let’s hope the messiah is down with throwing some devil horns. Perez says the term “metal” brings with it a stigma, from which he and his band-mates constantly try to break free. “A lot of times when people read our lyrics, they think we’re a Christian band,” Perez says. “We try not to write songs about killing, death and hatred.” Still, Enemy Inside plays intense, high-energy shows with an emphasis on crowd participation. Their fans voted them Rock Wars champions in 2006, and Perez hopes that the love carries over to the Sammies. Who knows, maybe offering an exclusive gig for Jesus will earn them some brownie points.
Five Victims Four Graves
Five Victims Four Graves were signed to New Age Records in January 2006 when Red Tape band member (and fellow Sammie nominee) Jeff Jaworski handed off their demo to New Age label chief Mike Hartsfield. Since then, 5V4G released an EP in 2007, Desperation Never Felt So Good, and the band has recently embarked on its first national tour (through September). Singer Phil Mengell says hardcore and metal bands are overlooked in the Sacramento area and is pleased that SN&R is finally getting it right by designating a Hardcore/Metal category to the Sammies awards. “There are a lot of bands who deserve the attention and don’t get it,” Mengell says. “We’re glad to see that is changing with the Sammies.”
Mike Hood was touring Europe when he sent me an e-mail upon hearing the news of his Sammie nomination. It went something like “Hey, we’re true Sac hardcore and we rep Sac and destroy the competition,” only his words were a lot more raw—and true. Hoods have indeed repped the seen for almost 15 years; Mike himself has been an instrumental force in the local all-ages hardcore scene … but he’s never won a Sammie. “The reason, like I said, we never win is because you have to know someone who works there,” Mike wrote in another e-mail. I replied, “Well, now you know me so maybe you’re eligible to win this time?” His reply: “We crush on any band who is from Sac in this genre.” It’s now in your hands, voters.
Killing the Dream
Killing the Dream’s 2005 release was declared “Best hardcore album of the year” by AP. No, that’s Alternative Press Magazine; the Associated Press doesn’t have the cred to authoritatively weigh in on balls-out, gut-wrenching hardcore. But SN&R does (maybe): The band’s 2008 release, Fractures, is hardcore by definition—popping snares and frantic fills; dissonant, aggro chops; throaty screams. That said, it’s hardly by the book: Their aggression is tempered, songs are never redundant, and while the arrangements are unpredictable, changes never stray over the top. The band currently is touring, but they’ll be reppin’ Sac soon.
Red Tape has made itself known beyond the valley with such high-profile tour mates as Bad Brains, Murphy’s Law, Mastadon, Social Distortion and more. “It’s a trip when you get fan mail from like Indonesia and like … Redding,” says band member Jeff Jaworski. Preferring “dark dingy clubs with no light, lots of cussing, lots of beer,” Red Tape has thoroughly entrenched itself in the Sacramento music scene. “I think there can never be enough love shown for the bands who continue to persevere in the scene here and play at places like the Fire Escape, the Distillery and VFW Hall,” Jaworski says. And Red Tape perfectly encompasses the genres emanating from those venues’ walls, blending punk with hard-rock sensibilities. “We’re just happy to be a part of [the Sammies],” Jaworski adds. “You could put us in the jazz category and we’d be like, ‘cool.’”
This dude is gigantic. And between you and me, C-Dubb seems like the kind of guy who would strong-arm the SN&R staff into a Sammies nomination. But he didn’t. C-Dubb says he’s inspired by 2Pac and Tech N9ne, so, by the law of natural progression, one can easily guess where his musical taste is headed. And Metallica, he adds. Hmm. Maybe not. That’s another thing about this mobbed-up rapper: he’s totally unpredictable. His musical limitation is “singin’ on key,” he says, but that doesn’t matter at all, because he’s a frigging rapper. We hate when rappers sing. “Sac hates hip-hop? No, Sac hates weak shit,” says this brutish hellion in “Rappers Actin’ Bad” from his eighth studio album Veteran Status. C-Dubb definitely represents the grittier side of Sacramento hip-hop.
Fifty days of gigs: Best Buy (9131 W. Stockton Boulevard in Elk Grove) June 28, 2 p.m.
First time I saw this guy, it was at a park in Davis, where a stage had been set up. “What’s going on here?” I asked a dude in uniform. “There’s going to be a show,” he replied. “Some guy named Dahlak; he’s supposed to be really, really good.” That usually means the opposite. About 15 minutes later, we had a park full of college kids jumping around like mental patients. Most of them had never heard of Dahlak before. And most of them will never forget him. This poet, actor and emcee is a founding member of Sacramento’s Neighborhood Watch crew. He dropped his debut album Dual Consciousness last year, and it’s full of tracks soulful enough to be featured in a Taye Diggs movie, but party-rocking enough to be heard bumping from a Jeep’s speakers. Dahlak’s one of the reasons Sacramento hip-hop is on the map.
On a questionnaire that we gave to all the Sammies nominees, Doey Rock gave mostly one-word answers—Reasons for writing, recording and performing music: “Love.” Tell us the way you learned to do it: “Pain.” Tell us about how your music, or somebody else’s, makes you feel: “Joy.” So, OK, he’s a man of few words—that is, until he grabs a mic and turns into a mean-ass rapper, blending hip-hop lyricism with raw-to-the-core street music. When Doey was a kid and heard KRS-1’s “My Philosophy,” it was all over for him. He was hooked. Because of his fascination with hip-hop and that raw street stuff, he represents Sacramento rap perfectly. It’s easy to see why this man’s goal is to “change the view of street rap, gangsta rap, etc. …” Because he can.
When the kid’s father put headphones on him, the kid fell in love with music. Then the kid grew up and started calling himself Flavius. Then he and his brother Self and his brothers from another mother, Linguistics, Runt Rock and DJ Rated R, formed a group to practice the jazzy form of hip-hop that seems lost in a world of computerized glitches and beeps. These folks aren’t afraid to be themselves—which is not only refreshing but necessary in today’s hip-hop global warming, where emcees seem to sweat the salty drops of fake gangsterisms with every MTV video. There’s nothing fake about Live Manikins, and their music is enjoyed by fans of rock, jazz and everything in between. Collectively, they’re an enigma, and we’re just glad they reside in our fair city.
SN&R Showcase: Press Club, June 18, 8 p.m.
Tais, Tofu De la Moore, SOL, Skurge and Theek are Righteous Movement. Their organic hip-hop is something I’ve heard many local groups talking kindly about, which is quite a statement considering that hip-hop lately has been known to breed jealousy and hatred. Their simple, jazz-infused beats with intelligent wordplay and insanely infectious live shows are what got them into last year’s Vans Warped Tour. “It not only was us making history, it showed us what’s possible with hard work,” says Tais. Certainly, we’ve got some hard workers here. If they stumbled onto a million dollars they’d spend their loot on “The youth, Cadillacs and babies and bills,” in that order. And when Jesus comes back, they’ll be doing “the same thing we’ll be doing when 2Pac comes back: rockin’ shows, baby!”
SN&R Showcase: Harlow’s, June 11, 8p.m.
It’s all honesty with State Cap.: “We’re broke, hungry and we have an undying love for hip-hop,” says A.V., who rhymes in the group along with Bosse, Hanlin and C Plus. Even if the power goes out, these dudes are unstoppable. “[There was] a show we had at Willemina’s where (due to ordinances and permits) they would not let us perform with amplified sound. Instead of leaving, we went in and performed a cappella while A.V. clapped out beats for about 15 minutes.” Yeah, I was there. It was magic. Their music is soulful and their voices are varied and interesting. And they do a lot for this city as members of the Neighborhood Watch collective. Poets, jokers, emcees, raconteurs, State Cap. together is part beatnik, part scholar—and their music “makes us feel great … and a little high!”
SN&R Showcase: Press Club, June 11, 8p.m.
Tribe of Levi
Mic Jordan, Poor, Non and DJ Filth are Tribe of Levi. These dreadlocked prognosticators of hip-hop are not just intelligence-espousing thought-provokers, they are fierce, word-playing emcees, just as proficient in a freestyle cipher as they are writing thesis-based raps. Their style shows influences from groups like Brand Nubian and Dead Prez, but their collective intelligence as musicians and lyricists can’t be matched. There’s nothing soft about this group, but that doesn’t at all mean they’re gangsters. Just hard-thinking, hard-performing, hard-working men trying to give our city a taste of their interpretation of hip-hop.
SN&R Showcase: Press Club, June 11, 8p.m.
This past year Bananas toured twice—Japan and the United States—and played the latest incarnation of the Operation: Restore Maximum Freedom festival at Plainfield Station. And that show was awesome: On a steamin’ hot Saturday, Bananas set up on the lawn, fans made the requisite horeshoe ’round the trio and the band proceeded to kill it. Mike R. Mike, as usual, sang and rocked the guitar and brought the energy. Marie D. played bass and, along with drummer Scott Miller, kept the beat moving in the right direction—which, refreshingly so, isn’t always forward.
Citing inspiration from the riot grrl movement that spawned such acts as Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney, this otherwise-male foursome, fronted by an energetic singer named Brooke Sobol, is more accurately a throwback to late-’70s acts like the Go-Go’s, Blondie and the Runaways. Which isn’t a slag; there’s plenty of energetic fun to be had there when the style is done right. That means single-note melodies that follow the chord progressions, delivered with elan and focusing all attention on the singer, with a reliable wall of amplified sludge to for the vocals to surf across—here provided by guitarist Matt Vijeh, bassist Ray Hilliard and drummer Jason Osika. Sobol says music makes her feel alive, passionate and emotional. She certainly has an arresting presence.
SN&R Showcase: Club Retro, June 20, 8 p.m.
Fifty days of gigs: Fire Escape Bar and Grill, June 8, 4 p.m.
Final Summation drops a new release on June 7, then hit the road across the United States pretty much till August. This means you’ve got only a few chances to see their Clash meets Rancid meets Social D-style punk, including their tour kickoff show on June 20 at Club Retro. But if you’ve got any cred whatsoever, you’ll already have seen Final Summation times over, ’cause they’ve been reppin’ the local punk scene hard for almost 10 years.
SN&R Showcase: Club Retro, June 20, 8 p.m.
Fifty days of gigs: Orangevale VFW Hall, June 7, 8:30 p.m; Cesar Chavez Plaza, June 13, 5 p.m.; Orangevale VFW Hall, July 7, 8:30 p.m.
The Helper Monkeys
It’s a difficult task, breathing new life into a style rendered moribund by overexposure. But Carmichael’s Helper Monkeys seem up to the challenge, with concise four-on-the-floor songs driven by buzzing guitars and topped with tuneful harmony vocals that address temporal concerns with all the requisite snottiness the genre calls for. The formula is a snap: Start with the kind of turbocharged surf-rock the Ramones perfected, bring it to life with sharpened tones and occasional solos purloined from the pointy-headstock crowd, and make sure the tunes kill. Vocalist-bassist Jeffrey Valentine has his techno side project Extravaganza going, but with a new Monkeys album just dropped, he’ll be getting busy raising a ruckus with guitarist Mac Ryan, drummer Craig Hancock and frontman Jaz Brown.
I’m just going to recycle what I’ve written previously about Mayyors. I swear I’ll never write about them again: “Mayyors—Chris Woodhouse, Mark Kaiser, Julian Elorduy, John Pritchard—are also one of the area’s better live bands. Their sound? High-speed, saturated, maxed-out, addictive, up-in-your-shit noise punk. … Problem is, Mayyors is hard to catch. They don’t do MySpace, MP3s, Web sites, promotions, and they repeatedly misspell their monikker. Woodhouse practically laughed when I asked to do a story. The only way you’re going track down this self-described ‘party band’ is live, and they play on the DL.” Mayyors are an excellent band that cares about the one thing that matters: music.
“We are proof that you can be a band for 17 years and still have a great time with three chords and one beat,” Danny Secretion writes us. “We drive the kiddies crazy! We are the Ron Jeremy of 916 punk!” Now, you gotta respect staying power, especially when it comes from bands that play high-energy punk, and drummer-singer Danny, with cohorts Mickey Rat on bass and vocals and Paul Filthy on guitar and vocals, has been going at it through damn near four presidential terms. And if a “secretin” is a caffeine-addicted kid with a knack for homemade clothing and an obsession with the Secretions, then these guys are still doing a fine job. How can you argue with a band with a song with a chorus that says “I got three chords and a ‘fuck you’”?
SN&R Showcase: Club Retro, June 20, 8p.m.
Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya both left this mortal plane some time back, so Weill stopped writing gems for Lenya to sing. Which might leave a German cabaret fan in the lurch. Fortunately, others have stepped up, including the duo of Natalie Gordon and Lauren Hess, better known as Agent Ribbons. The full-length On Time Travel and Romance surfaced in late ’06, strains of which soon could be heard emanating from indie coffeehouses and boutiques all over town. And since then, singer/guitarist Gordon and drummer Hess have consolidated their lock on the post-Jenny Lind bordello cabaret-meets-hill-country blues combos. Even a tour across the country and back last fall with promoter Jerry Perry couldn’t take them out. On the heels of that came a four-song vinyl EP, Agent Ribbons and the Star-Crossed Doppelganger, from Long Beach-by-way-of-Sac indie label Seven Inch Project. (J.G.)
The Ancient Sons
Ancient Sons’ debut album, The Dark Gospel, drops this week. They’ve been playing Sac hard for over a year, and our very own Jackson Griffith recognized the talent early on, writing that they’d put together “a pretty top-notch group of songs.” Chris, Brad, Matt, David, Matt and Justin take the basics of retro-pop sound and make new with it, like with the psych-rock ballad “White Mountain Snow”—a bit o’ classic rock and a dash o’ indie flavor. “There are no limits when making music,” singer Chris Teichman says when asked of his band’s limitations, and in his case, you believe it. Sure, the Sons sound like the Kinks or even the Yardbirds—that’s obvious. But this is 2008, and though the band certainly owes a piece of their sound to groups that’ve come before, there’s something uniquely now about what they’re doing: They make earnest, sharp, bewildering music, and that’s a rarity these days.
SN&R Showcase: Old Ironsides; June 6, 9 p.m.
Fifty days of gigs: Luna’s Café, June 27, 9 p.m.
Somewhere between the lo-fi Brit-pop of the Smiths and the Sundays and the twee melodicism of Belle and Sebastian lies the lush retro-pop of Baby Grand. The name couldn’t be more appropriate—the delicate vocal work of Gerri White is set atop a “grand” ménage of sparkling pop rhythm, reverb and ’60s guitar flourishes—courtesy of Tim White (drums), Cory Vick (guitar), Leon Levy (bass) and Christina Maradik (viola, percussion, vocals). Baby Grand epitomizes the yé-yé aesthetic of DJ Roger’s Record Club showcase, where they’ve been featured on several occasions.
Fifty days of gigs: Luna’s Café, June 27, 9 p.m.
Why does Buildings Breeding make music? “It gives us the warm-fuzzies.” That’s odd, because their latest EP, Colors Bent to Seasons, does the same for us. A nice mix of honest, straightforward guitar-pop with occasional flashes of post-emo guitar rock, the band offers a solid, polished, unique addition to the Davis indie scene—which is not to say their reputation’s limited to the 916/530. “When we played South by Southwest and people were singing our songs, it felt surreal,” they say. They’ve got a full-length due in the coming months, and Chris Larsen, Melanie Glover, Evan Hart and Chris Vogel likely will be busy touring and gigging locally through year’s end.
SN&R Showcase: Marilyn’s on K, June 21, 8p.m.
I first saw English Singles in a basement, before they even had a name and maybe even a clue as to what they were going to be all about. Even so, they were tight; I dug them: Scott Miller on guitar and behind the mic, grooving on some indie-pop that was both upbeat and catchty, maybe even a bit gritty. Months later, Miller and Co. had a name and were gigging at the defunct-yet-soon-to-be-opened-again Town House and Old Ironsides. I caught the latter show, and there was a definite evolution: perhaps tighter, grittier, catchier. They don’t play as much as they should, but give ’em a Google and you’ll find a set on the horizon.
Knock Knock’s debut album and flurry of shows in support thereof really knocked a lot of people in this town on their asses. Catchy. Incendiary. Lively. Addictive. Others had more creative things to say. Girls on the Run is the album, a first-track-to-last keeper. “She Knocks Me Out” is the obvious single, with its hand-clap/riff intro and machine-gun “she, she, she, she” kick-starting the chorus. Allen Maxwell writes the wondrous ditties, Nicola Miller drums, and Heather Conway and Mike Cinciripino sing and play guitar, too. The four are great fun live, and while the album has heat to spare, their live set takes it up a notch, which is hard to believe.
The MySpace page of beloved Sacramento band An Angle presents a self-description of their sound as “two kittens fighting in a bowl of raspberry sorbet.” After multiple attempts to properly capture the essence of this ever-evolving musical ensemble, SN&R chose instead to follow the trend of analogous explanations for the acute (get it?) noises generated by frontman Kris Anaya and company (Matt Sergent, Nick Swimley, James Neil, Dan Block). Take from it what you will; just know they’re pretty darn good:
An Angle sounds like milk settling in a fresh bowl of Rice Krispies.
An Angle sounds like reading “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” while headed down “The Road Not Taken.”
An Angle sounds like sounds like sounds.
An Angle sounds like a moment. Yes, that one.
An Angle sounds like a Sammies nominee.
An Angle sounds like what you want to hear.
Fifty days of gigs: Marilyn’s On K; June 20, 9 p.m.
The Evening Episode
Terra Lopez, frontwoman for the Evening Episode, is a good writer. And thank God, because I’m sick of writing these bios. Here she is: “I sang to animals … I’m really infatuated by Cat Power—she has a really incredible voice and moves like Elvis live. She inspires me. And I love A Tribe Called Quest—they make me feel incredible … I play the kazoo really well. And I can clap like no other … We played in Mexico in February while on tour and that was an amazing experience. It was surreal. Hi Alejandro!”
Wait, who the hell is Alejandro? Hmm. Anyway, the rest of the band plays some seriously ambient, dreamscape-type electronic trip-hop that makes you want to roll an ice cube around your mouth without chomping down. Yup.
SN&R Showcase: Blue Lamp, July 3, 8p.m.
The Happy Medium
Addison Quarles, Drew Walker, Austin Guess, Matthew Stocks, Jay Souza and William Hall are the Happy Medium, an excellent indie-rock outfit. SN&R gave bands questionnaires; their answers were some of the best: Describe your best musical assets? “God-given ass.” Describe your musical limitations? “Mostly financial.” If you won a Sammie and $1 million, what would you do? “We’d probably finally print a CD and release it internationally without a label. Or we’d be the first band to play in space.” What’s the most important moment in your band’s history? “Filling out this questionnaire. … As we continued, our opinions differed on the tone of our answers and, effectively, the band split. It feels great.” Well, the Happy Medium got back together, so it’s time to take them seriously and catch their gig on June 8 at The Press Club.
SN&R Showcase: Press Club, June 8, 9 p.m.
The New Humans
The New Humans played their first show at CoolCat Gallery. Then the venue was shut down. They enjoyed a practice space at Sol Collective, then lost their gear when a fire forced that gallery to close its doors. They’ve been without a lead singer (but searching). Despite such challenging beginnings, the electro-pop quartet earned a fanbase, perhaps thanks to their favorite moment in New Humans history: the Cuffs show last April at which there was “dancing in the streets,” according to the band. Dancing, huh? Now tell us, New Humans, how does music-making make you feel? “Yeee!” they report.
SN&R Showcase: Press Club, June 18, 8p.m.
“On the dance floor. At the guitar store. Behind our bedroom door.” No, these aren’t lyrics, and no, this isn’t a list of places where husband-and-wife duo Pets have, well, you know. It’s an answer to a different question—how the pair came to learn and love their musical trade. Derek Feith and Allison Jones have been a longstanding part of the local music scene, with this being their third consecutive year as a Sammie nominee. Sacramento just can’t seem to get enough of Pets’ energy and distorted danceability, a combination of effects-laden guitar and bass, reverb, keys, drum-machine beats and sassy vocals. With their 2006 release, Pets commanded, Pick Up Your Feet. We were doing it then, we’re still doing it now, and we’ll keep on keepin’ on—on the dance floor, at the guitar store, behind our bedroom door—so long as these two bring the sound that inspires.
SN&R Showcase: Press Club, June 8, 8p.m.
When SN&R asked Two Sheds about the whys and hows of their music, the all-encompassing answer was, well, fun. Good times by way of messing around with friends and drinking beer during bouts of unemployment. They would seem a carefree bunch, yet the music of Caitlin and Johnny Gutenberger, Rusty Miller and James Finch Jr. whistles a different, heavier tune. “It breaks my heart to be alive,” Caitlin croons on the similarly named track on their new EP (currently available only on iTunes). In a crowded room, Two Sheds has the ability to mute distractions as though you’re underwater—just you and them. Their musical archive offers up varying moods, easily a soundtrack to a virtual road trip (cliché, but so right on), with intricate fingerpicking for desert sunsets and delicate drums for lowlit barrooms on the side of some lone highway. It haunts, it hovers, and then there’s something universally reassuring in how the sounds understand and can be understood. When you’re in on the secret, that’s when the tide of good times rolls in.
Fifty days of gigs: Java Lounge, June 13, 8 p.m.
Jay Shaner’s one of those guys who continually amazes. Perhaps the closest thing our local Americana scene has to a chameleonic Neil Young figure, Shaner can knock you sideways with a song, simply sung, backed with his acoustic guitar. Then he’ll strap on a Telecaster and microwave-cook your brains from the inside out with skronk unbefitting a person of such low-key demeanor. The Cowboy Killers are Shaner, who recently released a fine solo album titled Best Laid Plans, with bassist Ben Hoke, drummer James Neil and whoever else tags along for the ride, formed in the wake of Shaner’s other band, the either on hiatus or moribund the Ghosts of California. One door closes, another opens.
The Devil Makes Three
A local promoter, who shall remain nameless, could not hide his enthusiasm while talking outside a club last summer. “There’s this band called the Devil Makes Three from Santa Cruz that’s moving here,” he said, “and they are going to tear this town up and own it.” He went on to describe a mutant mess of rockabilly, blues, punk and acoustic noise, laughing at how good the combination was. When I caught frontman-guitarist Pete Bernhard, guitarist Cooper McBean and stand-up bassist Lucia Turino doing their thang live, I laughed in agreement. This transplanted-to-Davis trio makes some fine acoustic drinkin’ music, the kind that comes from long nights spent with a stack of vintage vinyl, arguing over the finer points while cigs are smoked and whiskey is drunk.
Jackpot has been serving up the type of saloon Americana that’s perfect pop-country for a whiskey-slurred slow-dance since 1994. And its 14-year stretch is somewhat remarkable considering how many membership changes the ensemble’s undergone. But the steady rotation might have something to do with the versatility of its players. After all, each musician involved in recording Jackpot’s 2007 album Moonbreath plays in other bands. Vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist and bassist Rusty Miller also makes music with Two Sheds, the Biters and Milwaukee; drummer Mike Curry with the Biters; vocalist and bassist John Gutenberger with Two Sheds and Milwaukee; vocalist and keyboardist Dave Brockman with the Miles; and guitar, banjo and Dobro player James Finch Jr. with Two Sheds. Phew! They have their hands in many pots, but as their Sammie nomination attests, there’s only one Jackpot.
Lee Bob Watson
Some people know of Lee Bob Watson from his years singing, keyboarding and playing guitar with Sammie-nominated country-rock ensemble Jackpot. But his solo work has elevated him to an individual place of critical acclaim. Watson strips country of its glossy modern roots, harkening back to at times sweet, at times forlorn and at times almost simply poppy time in twang. Watson’s 2007 album Aficionado combines the talents of erstwhile Cake drummer Todd Roper, Cake bassist Gabe Nelson, Jackpot guitarist Rusty Miller and producer Dana Gumbiner into a sound best showcased in a jukebox lounge with a faded neon sign on a Vegas strip at dusk.
“Warm and cozy.” That’s how Light Rail singer and guitarist Tyler Williams wants to make you feel. And along with life-long friends and bandmates Shane Kalbach (violin), Chris Banuelos (guitar, vocals), Brian Moran (bass guitar, vocals) and Damien Ware (drums), his aim is true. The five-piece gathers wool with a sound all its own, resulting in a 50/50 blend of cotton and country that ends in nothing other than reverie for the unwitting listener. Those droopy eyes and big ol’ goofy smiles ain’t from the liquor (OK, maybe a little); it’s the true-to-form fiddling with winsome melodies that are easily snuggled up to. Embroidered onto the blanket of Americana are threads of Technicolor range—alt rock, pop, singer/songwriter, smooth jazz, blues, surf, punk, folk. Perhaps that’s why the ensemble chose Dream in Audio as the title of their recently released CD. Sleep tight, and pleasant dreams.
SN&R Showcase: Marilyn’s on K, June 21, 8p.m.
For a long time, you could get a dose of Richard March and his band every week at the Wednesday night Americana Ramble at Marilyn’s on K, where they held court as the house band. That setting provided March with a chance to polish up his material in front of a live audience, not to mention show off his dancing skills. March’s style, which you can hear on his 2007 album Levee Road, is straight-up California country, which means a stiff dose of Woody Guthrie and a heavy nod to native son Merle Haggard, shot through with the modernizing influence of Gram Parsons and what some political observers might call a blue-state perspective. Example: His song “Libraries” rewrites Haggard’s “They’re Tearing the Labor Camps Down” to address what’s happened to publicly funded entities such as libraries and schools. As for March’s crack band, it no longer features guitarist Steve Randall, but bassist Tyler Ragle and drummer Kevin Priest are still there, along with plenty of guests, including longtime Beer Dawgs guitarist Steve Wall.
SN&R Showcase: Marilyn’s On K, June 21, 9 p.m.
Fifty days of gigs: 24th Street Theatre, June 6, 8 p.m.; Southside Park, June 21, 1:30. Blue Lamp, June 28, 9 p.m.; Miner’s Foundry; July 12.
Led by belter Keri Carr—also the owner of the Midtown salon, Honey—Rowdy Kate has brought classic country and honky-tonk to local stages going on two years now. Kate, er … Keri, is backed by Geoff Miller on electric guitar and vocals, Robert Sidwell on acoustic and baritone guitar, Larry Carr on percussion, Steve Epstein on pedal steel and Dave Garrity on bass. The skilled bunch is as adept at Ray Price-styled tear-jerkers as they are at the straight-ahead bar-room bounce, à la Lefty Frizzell. And, like frosting on this alt-country cake, Rowdy Kate also does a mean version of the venerable ranchera, “Los Laureles.” Ay, que sabroso!
SN&R Showcase: Old Ironsides, June 6, 8p.m.
Be Brave Bold Robot
Dean Haakenson of Be Brave Bold Robot is a master of the run-on sentence. Even when you hear “A Letter to Violet Edison” for, say, the twelveth time, it still feels like the story is springing forth from Haakenson’s head in a stream of consciousness. Add to that his gift for obscure references and tangential asides, and you get conversations like this:
What difference does your music make in the world?
“People smile when the people in the band say unrehearsed things and show their drooling, naked essences.”
What do you consider the most important moment in the band’s history so far?
“We were on our way to play a show in the Yosemite area, just Matty [Matthew Gerken], Eric Talley and myself. Heather practiced singing in her and Matty’s car, and she sang with us that night and we got drunk in the woods and she’s been singing pretty with the Be Brave Bold Robot ever since.”
That’s the beauty of BBBR—the positive energy of their collective creativity. And the WTF moments.
SN&R Showcase: Old Ironsides, June 6, 8p.m.
“It’s a constant source of happiness for me. I do it because I don’t know how to deny my heart,” Ricky Berger says of why she makes music. She’s a natural songwriting, and has been doing so for as long as she can remember. The Bakersfield native would write songs for other musicians before catching the bug to perform during her first nervous gig. Thereafter, she’s all confidence. “I hope to perhaps reach people on some kind of an emotional level,” she explains. “If anything, I hope I can leave the world feeling a little more loved.” Her debut album drops on June 28.
Informally speaking, there are two types of songwriters: those who write epic, deep-thinking, conceptual songs, and those who sing about houseflies and sweaters. On the surface, Justin Farren is one of the latter, but he’s living, jamming proof that sometimes the twain do indeed meet. Farren’s a storyteller, and the best storytellers keep it simple. They might write a piece with a Byzantine subtext, but what’s the point if you lose your audience? And sometimes, you’ve just gotta say, “To hell with subtext, I just want to bust on stupid Jason Mraz fans.” Well, what’s wrong with a little entertainment for entertainment’s sake? Above it all though, Farren is a consummate performer, combining a relaxed demeanor with polished delivery.
SN&R Showcase: Marilyn’s on K, June 21, 8p.m.
Another of Grass Valley’s bountiful crop of talented songwriter/performers, Aaron Ross walks between worlds. His songs pack so much frenetic energy into their expansive, four-minute packages that it’s a wonder they remain so distinctively folk. Of course, if you’re familiar with Ross’ work with Hella, then his ability to stitch together meticulously detailed soundscapes from a variety of influences isn’t so surprising. The difference with his solo material is the immediacy. SN&R associate arts editor Josh Fernandez pointed out that Ross’ recordings sound “like he’s singing in a cave,” and that’s the perfect atmospheric touch for these shamanistic ditties.
Faces in the Rocks, Mariee Sioux’s 2007 debut album on the Grass Roots Record Company label, generated buzz from mags as disparate as Spin and Parade, so her wide-ranging appeal should come as no surprise. The Nevada City resident is barely out of her teens, but music runs in the family. Her father plays on the debut album, and she credits her parents with introducing her to musical sources that range from Simon & Garfunkel to the Grateful Dead. She discovered Kate Wolf on her own. Sioux’s original compositions combine “girl-folk” of the Joni Mitchell variety with traditional Native American instrumentations, which leads to a soothing and thought-provoking music.
Terra Lopez and Chelsea Wolfe are Winter Trees. Lopez also is the lead vocalist for the Evening Episode; singer/collaborator in Sister Crayon, a hip-hop duo; and plays solo on a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar. Wolfe sings for Red Host and plays and records solo. In their copious free time, Lopez and Wolfe decided to make music together. Good move. They put out one EP last September—six single-take tracks of gorgeous songwriting. Lopez’s voice is soft, even ethereal, and there’s no mistaking Wolfe, with her confident, earthy, speckled alto. Together, it’s a lively balance of chill and blossom.
DJ Crook 1
Decibel Devil and deejay extraordinaire on his own right, Crook lays down beats that exude undeniable dance vibes. Leaning more toward groovable hip-hop and classic electro goodness, Crook reps hard, spinning tunes at Harlows, Golden Bear and Monkey Bar with regularity during the past year. Next month, he’s got a lot goin’ down, including a night during Shaun Slaughter’s summer kickoff week. Sample some beats and find out more at www.myspace.com/crookdocdawho.
DJ Mr. Vibe
I first saw Mr. Vibe playing at the CoolCat Gallery in a packed room. His skills are immeasurable, but if I had to guess, I’d estimate 700 feet. He’s not the kind of deejay you see at a booty club who makes girls shake their flab (although I’m sure he can); he’s more the deejay you watch and say, “Why are his fingers moving so fast?” or “What are those rhythmic sounds emanating from his turntables?” Here’s a fond memory DJ Mr. Vibe has of his pre-pubescent years: “Getting my first turntables. I must have practiced all night because I woke up with a record imprint on my face.” Hm. Interesting. While we’re at it, any advice for the SN&R? “I don’t see any polka reviews.” Yeah, let’s keep it that way, buddy.
DJ Rated R
He’s not just the background deejay for Live Manikins. He’s their rhythm section, soloist and kind of a one-man freak show. His skills as a scratch deejay are nearly unmatched and crowds who watch him are always left in awe. This dude is a battle deejay to the fullest. Rated R is well known in the turntablist circuit and he slaughters at competitions. When Jesus returns Rated R “will teach him how to scratch devil music,” but in the meantime he’s going to live a full life practicing the art of hip-hop while making the ladies say, “F-r-e-s-h-h-h-h-h-h!”
Roger Carpio should get some kind of Nobel Prize or something for all he’s done for the scene this past year. Record Club? Thank Roger. Fuck Fridays? You know you spent more time upstairs at the Townhouse than downstairs. Bringing Elf Power and Bears to town? Roger again. Oh, did we mention that he’s one of the best deejays in town? Whether he’s sweating ’90s Britpop or a yet-to-be-discovered single, DJ Roger kills dance floors with the ease and panache of the best party makers.
Music “is the first thing I think of when I wake up” and “It’s the last thing I think about before bed,” says DJ 7evin. He grew up in a house full of musicians and went on to experiment with turntables and electronics until he carved out a genre for himself that’s part turntablism, part mash-up, part old-school and all danceable. “It shows people that you don’t have to take yourself / your clique / your genre / race / musical preference so seriously,” says the deejay. “Just shut up and dance,” he adds. Or if you don’t dance, you can watch others dance. It’s perfectly fine.
Fifty days of gigs: June 8, 9 p.m.; June 22, 9 p.m.; June 29, 9 p.m.; July 6, 9 p.m.; July 13, 9 p.m.; all shows at the Press Club.
“I just want to make a wild-assed trip for people to go on,” Tha Fruitbat, a.k.a. Evan Schneider, told SN&R back in ’04. “Hopefully, it won’t sound like any electronic music they’ve heard before.” It didn’t, Fruit, and it still doesn’t. And you keep mixing it up, like on your new track, “Hearing Colors, Seeing Sounds.” When I first saw … er … heard that one, it was like tripping across a psychedelic skyline, just biding time while the tunes went smooth and easy. Then, you go and play bass for Kill the Precedent, or team up with Takeshi Lewis and work on Two Playa Game’s Nintendotronica, and totally blow my mind. And your new album? I’ve heard it: It kills—can’t wait till it drops.
Phokus’ Brandon Bonnee makes sweats the heavy glitch beats that cut and go in a lot of different directions but still are palatable a steady, progressive dance floor. Like the Sacto electronica scene itself, Phokus is all about texture and atmosphere—which is good, because imaginative, unconventional beats inevitably find their way to induce the groove for those clamoring to dance. “I’m feelin’ music that uplifts my spirit, makes me dance and gets under my skin,” Bonnee says. Well dude, we’re feelin’ down with your beats; please keep them comin’.
Brandon Tallent is electronica artist Resynthesize. “I definitely love the moment when working on a track starts to coalesce and you know your’e onto something,” he explains of making electronic music, a process that many music lovers vaguely comprehend. Regardless, listeners dig the end result: more than 20,000 people downloaded the free version of Resynthesize’s 2006 release, Heart and Soul Direct, a collection of sweet IDM beats. His ’07 follow-up, Handprints, upped the ante with sick, decayed backbeats and smooth synth highs to create awesome breakbeat atmosphere, like on “C4 Crash.” I’ve only heard one track of ’08’s The Green Wall EP, but it’s straight techo-dance is dope. Find out more at www.myspace.com/resynthesize1.
SN&R Showcase: Press Club, June 8, 8p.m.
Two Playa Game
Here’s what SN&R wrote about local legends Two Playa Game back in ’07: “Two Playa Game’s music is unique on multiple fronts. They make beats out of video-game sounds, so Nintendo is their muse. But unlike Nintendo cover bands, the duo uses actual video-game sounds to construct their beats. But Two Playa Game also writes original music, using Ataris, for starters, plus Speak & Math, found sounds, TV commercials, traditional instruments, self-made beats and even samples from Timbaland, Q-Tip and Missy Elliott.” Two Playa Game’s Takeshi Lewis and Evan Schneider rep Sac at The Press Club’s monthly Synthetic electronica club (on third Sundays) and always bring it fresh ’n’ real. Give ’em a spin; give ’em your vote.
SN&R Showcase: Press Club, June 8, 8p.m.
Alas, Alak, Alaska!
The members of AAA have unique personalities. Singer/guitarist Jocelyn Noir, both musically and personally, is quiet, demanding, kind, dedicated and wild. Keyboardist Genaro Ulloa is outgoing, meandering but focused, and crazily talented. Amanda Carroll, perhaps just crazy—like ripping-pages-out-of-books-crazy during a recent set at True Love Coffeehouse. Jeannie MacDonald: unassuming, wildly hilarious, observant, perhaps secretly wicked. Who knows? That’s the enigma of AAA, the local experimental-folk outfit that writes astonishingly crafty and unpredictable “expericana” (you read that here first). Yeah, we’ve written about them a ton, but don’t write them off; check them out.
Art Lessing and the Flower Vato
When asked to describe their best musical asset, Art Lessing and the Flower Vato explain that three-fourths of their instruments are homemade. Their limitations? “I don’t know how to play,” say members Larry, Dan and Erin individually. “We suck at Rock Band [Video Game].” So why do they make music? “For dream control and mind interpretation,” they say. Art Lessing and the Flower Vato deliver meandering, experimental psychedelic music that has earned them a following, a steady stream of gigs and finally—the moment this band surely has been waiting for—a Sammie nomination. But actually, that whole waiting thing’s not true at all; Art Lessing and the Flower Vato “like to live in the present, thank you.”
Troy Mighty is Dead Western. He plays solo all over town, and if you’re fortunate enough to catch his act, it’s like witnessing a brilliant folk transformation. The bearded Mighty, who performs draped in suave psych-Asian regalia, catches you off guard, like back at the Operation: Restore Maximum Freedom V, when he appeared amid seated concertgoers on the grass and performed a rousting solo set. His vocals navigate dissonance and melody like nothing else around; his songs are a pure offshoot of the city’s proud Americana and experimental scenes. He’s got a full-length vinyl LP due any day now. Mighty, ever the perfectionist, labored over the vinyl-printing process, screen-printed all the album sleeves himself and commissioned the cover by local photographer Robert Charles Mull II. Can’t wait for the final product.
Fifty days of gigs: Luna’s Cafe, June 13, 9 p.m.
Instagon’s been around since 1993. According to their Web site bio page, they’re using philosophies of jazz and jam to reinterpret garage-rock music. LOB, Instagon’s “creator,” emphasizes improv and originality. He claims to “never repeat a lineup” and “recording are done live, everyting is about performing,” which is cool, because sometimes, ya know, stuff just seems over-rehearsed. It’s also convenient, as LOB “can’t read a lick of music and is tone deaf.” But with nearly 500 shows under his belt, no one’s complaining: We want noise; Instagon brings it.
Who’s Your Favorite Son, God?
Zac Nelson, Erik Woodard and Moncrieff are Who’s Your Favorite Son, God?, who’ve been aroudn since 2005 and released the excellent Out of Body Diva LP last year. Their sound? Free-jazz drums, wandering guitars, high-flying vocals—it’s psych-experimental with a knack for hummable melodies amid experimentation and formlessness. They create disorder, fine, but deliberately so—and oh how WYFSG? delicately tiptoe along that line.
Don’t forget these nominated artists!
Steve Gatz & Double Shuffle, Jimmy Pailer & the Prophets, Kid Andersen, Aaron King & the Imperials, Sacramento Blues Revue
Ross Hammond, The Ni Project, Kairos Quartet, Mat Marucci Trio, Vivian Lee
Luvtaxi, Sol Peligro, Nada Brahma Music Ensemble, Arden Park Roots
Plus, SN&R will announce the award for Outstanding Local Artist in the issue on July 10. Voting begins online on June 1!