Small faces, big sound

For most local-music fans, used to seeing singer-songwriter and record producer David Houston playing his warm pop tunes in an intimate setting without a whole lot of volume, the reunion of Public Nuisance last Friday, on the opening night of the Wasted Weekend garage fest at Old Ironsides, was a bit of a delightful shock. Houston was joined onstage by Ron McMaster, these days a recording engineer at Capitol-EMI in Hollywood who specializes in remastering old tapes for reissue. Back in the day, he was the drummer for the 1960s South Sacramento band that evolved from the Jaguars into Moss & the Rocks and then Public Nuisance.

The two other members of that band didn’t make it; bassist Pat Minter died in 1994, and guitarist Jim Mathews declined to participate. So, Houston, who alternated between a Fender and an unwieldy Vox 12, were joined by Chris Woodhouse on guitar, Matt McCord on drums and Megan Cauley (whose name we misspelled last week—sorry) on bass. McCord and Cauley had played Public Nuisance songs with Houston before, at the same venue last Halloween. McMaster drummed on a couple of tunes and played congas and sang backup on the others.

The 45-minute set drew from Public Nuisance’s two-CD set Gotta Survive, issued in 2002 by local enthusiast label Frantic Records, and included such gems as “Magical Music Box,” “Strawberry Man,” “Love Is a Feeling,” “Holy Man” and “Small Faces”—the latter a garage classic recently covered by the White Stripes in concert. Woodhouse, in particular, sounded like he’d spent the last month headphoning Gotta Survive while researching guitar tones and vintage fuzz-box setups. The set was punctuated occasionally by shouts from Frantic proprietor Joey D, the kind of person my dad might’ve pointed at and said, “That guy’s a real character.”

The other standout at Friday’s garage fest was the Sutters IV, a Merseybeat combo featuring Brent Seavers, his brother Dean, Tim White and Chris Harvey, which really nailed the spirit of 1964 in its set of well-chosen covers. On Saturday, Th’ Losin Streaks killed the crowd in their usual fashion, and the surprise was Thee Flying Dutchmen, a demented throwback to glue-sniffing 1966 garage rock that looked like it had been drawn by cartoonist Dan Clowes under the direction of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and that sounded even more ragingly boss. The Renton, Wash., foursome included a very cute but inebriated Farfisa organ player and a chubby, bespectacled frontman who flaked apart behind the microphone like a salmon steak left on the grill for too long.

Later that night, across the downtown grid at the True Love Coffeehouse, Houston finished off the over-24-hour marathon held by the venue to mark its closing at its J Street location, with the True Love’s final set of music to eat waffles by. Backed by cellist Krystyna Ogella and bassist Erik Kleven, Houston’s gentle renditions of songs from his current repertoire belied the idea that he ever was any kind of public nuisance.