Roberts is the new Farrell?

In 1965, 20-year-old Eric Clapton joined the Bluesbreakers, a purist rocking blues band that simultaneously helped define him as a guitar player and made him into a superstar. Graffiti scrawled in the London underground spoke volumes on the kind of effect his guitar playing had, at least on a loyal group of particularly loyal fans: “Clapton is God.”

Sacramento has had its own steady parade of loyal fans and guitar deities. Sac’s current guitar heroes include Steve Amaral (formerly of Red Star Memorial and Popgun and currently in Happy Landings) and GB (formerly of Magnolia Thunderfinger and currently of GB and the Carousers). Perhaps the most well-known of our local guitar heroes is Mike Farrell, former guitarist of much-missed Sex 66 and current guitarist of Daisy Spot and Th’ Losin Streaks. He’s an incendiary guitarist whose unhinged stage presence is as much a part of his performance as the sound blasting from his amp is. In terms of local music, Farrell is legendary.

Alec Roberts of the Knightmares easily could be added to any “Sacramento guitar heroes” list. As a recent online blog comment by “Genghis Conway” noted, “I also think Alec might be the new Mike Farrell. Did you notice that it seemed like there were some dudes there just to watch him shred? Which he did.”

Roberts’ performance is different from the others on the list in that there’s very little obvious guitar playing happening. There’s no Farrellesque interpretive dancing, no Amaralian pick slides, no GB-inspired whiskey-bar solos. Instead, Roberts comes to the guitar from a direction that reminds one both of the Who’s Pete Townshend and Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan. He delivers a combination of slashing rhythm and blazing, uncontrolled guitar noise.

The end result is the Knightmares, a band that sounds like a weird collusion of the Beach Boys and Sonic Youth. The interlocking harmony vocals of Roberts, drummer Charles Albright (of Rock the Light) and guitarist Joel Goulet (of the Four Eyes) create arching chords over interlocking dual guitar parts. It’s not unlike the interplay between Sonic Youth’s Lee Renaldo and Thurston Moore. Goulet, no slouch in the guitar department himself, is the perfect foil to Roberts’ work here, always presenting some alternative vision to the melody.

Considering that the Knightmares are basically a pop band (a grungy, noisy pop band, but a pop band nonetheless), the guitar interplay is fascinating. It foregrounds a level of instrumental complexity that Candice Adams’ more straightforward bass and Albright’s drums glue together. Damn fine playing all the way around! The Thursday-night crowd at Old Ironsides seemed to agree. Watch for “Roberts is God” on Midtown’s brick walls or, better yet, go find the Knightmares yourself.

Now for the bad news. Sacramento is losing another band to the East Bay. Local sensitive-indie-rock mainstay Estereo (a.k.a. Skip Allums) moves this Friday. The good news is that Estereo is a touring machine, so there’s a good chance we’ll continue to see the band on local stages on a regular basis. Check for various informative bits.