The census of slamming heads

Mosh math 101: Does Sacramento even mosh? Let’s investigate.

We’re diverse as hell, according to the last census. In this city of 491,000 people, we’re about 45 percent white, 27 percent Latino, 18 percent Asian and 15 percent African-American.

Unfortunately, the census doesn’t poll a single question about circle pits. But what could local punk shows offer as evidence? Well, at the height of Cafe Colonial’s Punk Rock Holocaust last Friday, Black Crosses summoned a sizable maelstrom of bodies during their set.

It started with Sac trio FRACK. Aside from tom-heavy stampeding rhythms and cool bass lines and with even cooler onstage stoicism, singer-guitarist Chema Salinas opened with something you rarely hear in punk music: a lap steel. Resembling a guitar, the strange device rests on its back and produces slithering melodies usually reserved for old-school, waning-in-the-gutter blues songs.

Riot Radio marked the first of the “Radio” acts. The four were especially good at pummeling the crowd with breathless, one- to two-minute blasts, songs that ended as abruptly as they erupted. Rebel Radio uncorked vestiges of the ’90s punk era, mixing sunnier alternative pop and buoyant, bumping ska with balladic emo.

Up next, Black Crosses loosened everyone’s limbs for a mosh pit. The four-piece has mastered two punk rock staples: urgently defiant music and lighthearted banter. Another instigator was the rude dude, whose brash dance through the still crowd invited others to live a little more. Finishing the marathon (or holocaust) was Red Pills, which offered no respite from the night’s restlessly high energy. Nor should they have.

How many Sacramentans mosh, after all? There were about 60 people when things peaked, with 10 to 15 of them wrestling in the pit.

So the working statistic is one in five Sacramentans, if the music is loud enough and somebody is willing to thrash elbows and potentially spill a beer to get things started. In this case, five neighborhood punk bands and that hero in the bubble vest made it happen more than once, and Sacramento responded with furor.

—Mozes Zarate

Resurrecting a rocker: On a shadowy stage, the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra filed into place. The musicians dressed in all-black to perform their Saturday night tribute to that most colorful pop star, David Bowie. Charcoal uniforms might seem like a mismatch with the subject, but Bowie learned his showmanship in part from British singer Billy Fury, whose concerts sometimes began in darkness.

Breaking the silence, a guitar solo shredded with psychedelic warbles until the conductor skipped into position. Cowbells signaled that the song was “Rebel, Rebel,” and the audience cheered. With jagged, gelled hair, singer Tony Vincent—most famous for his appearance on The Voice—channeled Bowie’s theatricality with smoldering vocal fry as he sang, “Hey babe, let’s go out tonight.”

At first, it felt uncanny to accept this Broadway-style singer, with his belted-out high notes, as a stand-in for our dearly departed star. Eventually, Vincent won the crowd over with his heart-to-hearts about Bowie.

“We could never put a finger on this guy,” he said.

Vincent shared when he first heard the Thin White Duke on the radio in New Mexico with his older, cooler childhood friends. The audience fell silent in a moment of collective catharsis.

Brent Havens’ arrangements brought out the baroque drama from the Ziggy Stardust years to the Goblin King era. Initially, the drums overpowered the strings and woodwinds, but the levels were fine-tuned after intermission. Then, on “Life on Mars?” the cellos bowed a building line, playing off the buzzy guitar, and the horns rose above it all in the call and response, filling the large auditorium with the warmth of harmony.

With a solid turnout of 1,700 viewers, the concert represents a victory for the Philharmonic, which had to cancel its 2014-2015 season because of financial woes. Last season, the organization beat the odds to sell out two shows. With hip-shaking performances like Saturday’s, it’s poised for a comeback.

—Rebecca Huval