The days were alive and kicking
Cesar Chavez Plaza10th And J Streets
Sacramento, CA 95814
Far remembers the Cattle Club:
Let’s travel back to the mid-’90s. Singer Jonah Matranga stands out in his puffy, perhaps even nerdy, neon-yellow ski jacket as he darts through the sold-out Cattle Club crowd before Far takes the stage. The club, tucked away on Folsom Boulevard between Howe Avenue and 65th Streets, is a rock ’n’ roll sauna. After the show, you ride home drenched, even bruised and definitely hard of hearing, courtesy of Shaun Lopez’s deafening Marshall stack.
Cattle Club shows often were legendary, and Far’s were no exception. Jonah would bury his head into the crowd, urging fans to sing along into the mic. Lopez nimbly leapt into a sea of teenagers. Bassist John Gutenberger, who says he’s never stage-dived in his life, would chill on the right, bumping the backbeat with his friend since age 5, drummer Chris Robyn, who’d beat the crap out of his acrylic kit.
For an 18-year-old kid, seeing Far was like rubbing elbows with celebrities, years before Schwarzenegger or K.J. There was a fanaticism, rooted in both mystique, but also the idea that you could be so close to a band you loved even more than Fugazi or Pearl Jam or Jane’s Addiction.
Brian McKenna and Jerry Perry were Cattle Club’s ringmasters, booking shows from 1989 to 1995. “They kind of created that whole awesome environment,” drummer Chris says. “Jerry was dedicated to having local bands on every show, and Brian was really focused on bringing in quality touring acts. And it just worked out.”
“We’d go to other cities and it wasn’t nearly as cool,” Jonah says. “There wouldn’t be local bands that were kicking that much ass. Back then, Sacto could support you from birth almost to, like, healthy adulthood.”
It helped, too, that the bands were something special. “Far had this go-for-it confidence from the [get-go],” remembers Perry, who’d create fliers—he marvels at how the letters “F,” “A,” and “R” would be visible from hundreds of yards away—and he and the bands would plaster them all over town. Far even had a map, which split Sacramento County into sections; they’d leave no telephone pole unstapled. In fact, the city eventually banned fliering in the late ’90s.
“There’s nothing like what it was to be in Sacto from ’91 to ’94,” Jonah says.
There were even scene wars, so to speak. “Me and [Chk Chk Chk singer, then Yah Mos frontman] Nic Offer were like mortal enemies, but we kind of came to be friends in this weird way over the years,” Jonah recalls. “If you stay in it, you kind of earn your stripes.”
“There’s always going to be the indie-vs.-sellout mentality,” John says. “I don’t hear it much anymore, but it was definitely more common in the 1990s.”
Local bands shared the stage with the likes of Fishbone, Nirvana, Hole—which never happens any more. At one Far gig, Tool was the opener; this was just before Opiate took off. And, of course, Tool absolutely killed it. Far was still fleshing out their sound, though, and Tool didn’t play nice: When Far asked to trade merch T-shirts with singer Maynard James Keenan, he declined. (Far wrote an affectionate diss—“No thanks to Tool”—on an album’s liner notes.)
But Sacto was a town where a band like Far could grow, mature, progress. “If Far was a band that grew up in Los Angeles, they’d have to change their name, like, five times,” John argues.
But all good things end.
“What actually started the decline in the scene, for the most part, was when Jerry Perry and Brian McKenna sort of went their separate ways,” Chris remembers.
Now, 20 years later, there’s still a lot of talk about the good ol’ Cattle Club days—and how the scene has never been the same. Yet Sacramento still has much to offer. “I’ve seen a lot of great shows because they were in Sacramento. Because it was in a shithole. Because there was nobody there,” says John, the only Far guy still living in town. “I kind of embrace that.”
But there’s no denying those alive-and-kicking days. “I remember going on Folsom past 65th, and you’d go under that last little bridge,” Jonah begins, “and that’s where’d you know that you were going to have a good show or not. If you could start to see cars just past that underpass, you’d be psyched. And if you couldn’t, you’d be fucked.
“And we never took that for granted.”