One for the (all) ages

Live-music gigs for the under-21 crowd are making a comeback

Right after this shot, Meg Larkin of 20,000 bit off the head of one of Skinner’s monsters at Javalounge. (Well, not really.)

Right after this shot, Meg Larkin of 20,000 bit off the head of one of Skinner’s monsters at Javalounge. (Well, not really.)

Photo By Nick Miller

For years people wanted Far, the Sacramento rock act that disbanded at the peak of its popularity 10 years ago, to get back together. And then last fall, it happened. But I don’t think last Thursday’s comeback show at Empire is what people had in mind.

Lead singer Jonah Matranga wriggled onstage, taunting the audience, running fingers through his hair, rolling his arm like a windmill. It was really weird, but maybe that’s because the band was covering Ginuwine’s “Pony”: “If you’re horny / let’s do it / ride it, my pony / my saddle’s waiting / come and jump on it.”

Yeah, that song.

Actually, it was kind of embarrassing—though Matranga and guitarist Shaun Lopez, bassist John Gutenberger and drummer Chris Robyn seemed to be having a good time. Zac Diebels—of Simon Says then, Automatic Static now—joined the fellas for the Ginuwine rehash, grinding an orange tiger-striped axe, sporting a V-neck with a U.S. flag screen print on the front and looking a bit ridiculous.

A friend whispers, “He drives a white Hummer and his guitar case is labeled ‘Z Dog.’” Rock stars.

But with prima-donna-ism comes tight and well-rehearsed sets, which was the case for Far’s first local show in a decade (in spite of the horrible job by the sound crew—what was up with that?). That said, the songs are in some cases 15 years old, and with each octave run and dissonant crunch their age shows. You can’t help but be grateful that 1994 is history.

Back then, Far signed to Sony after years as a Sacramento all-ages scene mainstay. But the band broke up in 1999, venues closed—and burned down—and the scene changed. Some say it died. (OK, so I wrote a cover story—“All ages, all over?” SN&R Feature Story; March 6, 2008—proclaiming the scene was on life support, to the ire of many.)

But lately the all-ages scene’s exhibiting signs of a quote-unquote comeback.

On a recent Friday night, there were—count ’em—four all-ages gigs in Midtown alone, not to mention two in the sticks (a.k.a. Orangevale) and one in Davis (a hip-hop show at Delta of Venus). And there were more all-ages gigs later that week: a well-attended show at Luigi’s Fun Garden and a wacky but sick house show on L Street (see last week’s Sound Advice column).

Apparently the scene has new juice. It’s time for a pulse check. Here’s a diagnosis.

All the seats that surround blue vinyl-tablecloth-covered tables at Luna’s Café & Juice Bar are taken by tweeners and 20-somethings, many of them sipping red wine with the faux-sophistication of those who’ll one day graduate to swankier Midtown wine digs, like the bacchanal-a-trois on L Street.

Ninja antics outside Javalounge at 20,000’s CD release.

Photo By Nick Miller

For now, however, they’re stuck at Luna’s, the venerable singer-songwriter and spoken-word venue. But that’s a good thing. The evening’s show: Chelsea Wolfe, Tippy Canoe and Ricky Berger—touted as “ladies night” on local indie-music calendar Undietacos—should be fun.

And it is, though admittedly I only catch Wolfe’s set. She’s wearing a black dress with red embellishments and switches between electric and acoustic guitars, her voice resonating long and longingly over thoughtful but not overly calculated arrangements.

Ira Skinner and Kevin Dockter, formerly of the Evening Episode, join her for the last couple songs on drums and guitar, respectively. One track, “Cousins of the Antichrist,” with Wolfe on acoustic, is particularly haunting, especially Dockter’s slide-guitar musings. Blenders smooth smoothies and grinders grind coffee beans, but they don’t distract; there’s only the song. Captivating.

Out front afterward, Skinner explains that it’s the first time he’s sat in with Wolfe since manning the kit on her first album, Mistake in Parting, years ago. He also remarks that the sold-out Luna’s show is reassuring. Earlier that week, at what he says was a “really awesome” Jeepster show at Old Ironsides, only a handful witnessed the band’s Radiohead-inspired set. He takes a drag of his cigarette, at this point probably very accepting of Sacramento’s fickle live-show attendance record.

Then Skinner, Wolfe and local shutterbug Amy Scott round up the gear and walk it back home down 16th Street. As I leave, the island vibe of Tippy Canoe’s ukulele makes for pleasant sidewalk ambience, though I can’t help but wonder why so many local chanteuses (Berger, Autumn Sky) have gone Adam Sandler with four-string nylon Hawaiian fetishes.

Either way, a ukulele serenade is a nice way to leave a show, like getting off an airplane for a week-long stay in Maui.

“What the hell? Where’d these kids come from?”

A friend yells in my ear over 20,000’s high-energy set, and she’s right: What is this tie-dye-T-shirt-wearing, colorblind-wardrobed, mid-20s coterie bouncing up and down and everywhere at the Javalounge, an all-ages coffeehouse just north of Broadway on 16th Street?

We go to a lot of shows but are dumbfounded. She posits Stockton. I say Rocklin; those kids have a lot of repression to overcome, and what better place than the Javalounge to offset the suburban despotism.

It’s a way different vibe than Luna’s, where I came from.

Anyway, a good 60 people show up for 20,000, a local dance-pop duo whose album release is the draw. Normally, audiences at Sacramento shows are a sorry, reverent, head-bobbing, beer-sipping, passive, possibly constipated and pain-in-the-ass-boring lot. But 20,000’s groupies are rad. They bop to the Meg Larkin and David Mohr beats … for the whole damn set, going nuts when songs begin and applauding wildly when they’re over.

And then there’s the tall, hefty guy in the front row with the Clorox-bright tie-dye shirt, greasy chin-length hair and Coke-bottle glasses. The band breaks into a better-known song, “Dares for Squares,” and this guy—requisite towering-guy-in-the-room-who-ill-advisedly-stands-in-the-front-like-a-total-dick—starts waddling like a penguin. He stops dead in his tracks, shifts his ass to the right and shoulders to the left, then vice-versa, and hobbles onward.

Arizona-based French Quarter were denied permission to play a song with the full band, but—at 11 p.m. in a house south of downtown—did it anyway.

Photo By Nick Miller

It’s the 20,000 version of the Truffle Shuffle.

And you almost want to join the dude: 20,000’s sound is like a wilder, friendlier take on Gary Numan’s Pleasure Principle, but instead of sulky, pensive synths riffs, 20,000’s tracks urge you to defy gravity.

“We have CDs for sale. You can totally steal one. Just do it!” Larkin announces. Everyone laughs. The set ends. People hug, leave, and Larkin and Mohr load up keyboards and cross the street to their ride, parked in the Willie’s Burgers lot.

“I need a beer after that,” I think. My friend buys me a Pabst Blue Ribbon tall can at the Broadway liquor store before biking to an all-ages house show south of downtown.

Teague Cullen is folk singer Foot Ox from Tempe, Ariz., and his tour has brought him to this quaint three-bedroom near Southside Park. He’s young, early 20s, with bushy blond highlighted curls and a squeaky baritone.

In fact, he sounds a bit like legendary songwriter Daniel Johnston.

And local musician Genaro Ulloa, sitting in front of Cullen on the dingy but surprisingly clean crème-colored carpet, can’t resist. The song ends, the crowd of 30 slaps their hands together, then Ulloa jokes: “So, uh, do you know any Daniel Johnston songs?”

Silent. Cullen is chagrined, but the crowd has his back. They boo Ulloa, who backtracks and spits out a quasi-apology. Cullen smiles. “I got into Daniel Johnston after I started writing songs,” he explains before breaking into a rousing cover of “Casper the Friendly Ghost”:

“You can’t buy no respect / Like the librarian said / But everybody respects the dead / They love the friendly ghost.”

It’s midnight when the house show ends, which also featured performances by Brie White, a soft-spoken songwriter also from Arizona, and Sacramento’s very own Ellie Fortune. Revelers chill, sipping 40s in brown bags (why?). Someone puts a soul record on the turntable. A gang of chimneys roll cigarettes on the porch.

I’m unlocking my wheels when Daniel White, of local experimental group Freebasers, asks if I want to be his bike buddy back to Midtown. I oblige, though his ride obviously can outrun my clunker. But it’s freezing, and he rides slowly, hands in pockets.

On the way back toward Capitol and 20th, it’s a ghost town, except for pockets of young kids walking to and fro in the wee hours. There’s a huge crowd of 20-somethings outside the Townhouse, bikes locked on poles, trees, signs and meters for nearly two blocks.

They own the night.