The lamb lies down on Alhambra
Killing Buddha recreates arena-style prog-rock grandeur on local nightclub stages
By most accounts, London’s psychedelic scene peaked around 1967. The Syd Barrett-led version of Pink Floyd was in full swing, the expatriate American Jimi Hendrix was just starting to break onto the national scene, and the Soft Machine was just making a name for itself in music circles. In the midst of that, such venues as the UFO Club were featuring nights of psychedelia in which music, dancing and what we would now think of as “performance art” mingled in an environment that was part musical event and part circus fantastique.
In a way, this kind of mingling perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Killing Buddha, a five-piece band with a heavy penchant for mixing theater and music. The band isn’t really a psychedelic rock act, but when it performs live, particularly at its own “World 2” performance space in Rancho Cordova, one can practically feel the ghosts of UFO Club patrons in attendance. A man paints on a transparent canvas under a black light, and stripes of long, glowing color appear as if suspended in midair. Dancers move to the rhythm of the music, twirling glowing poi balls around their spinning bodies. The band itself is bathed in a murky, aquatic light show.
The mixture of art genres is clearly something Killing Buddha finds important. Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Wesley James, formerly of Orisha and Birthday and a theater-arts major at California State University, Sacramento, explained the band’s vision: “More and more, what I would aspire to do—which is why I got [World 2]—would be to incorporate multimedia elements into an actual show with a story. Basically something like [Pink Floyd’s] The Wall.”
This is not to say that the average music fan will see 20-foot-tall puppets and gooey light shows at every Killing Buddha show. In fact, most of the time, venue and financial constraints mean the band must perform sets without the multimedia aspect. “There’s a certain duty to being a rock band,” James explained, “and we still have to play stripped down, but we’re definitely getting more into the Burning Man spirit. … When you want to take a multimedia show on the road, you have to start with humble roots, and you have to expand from there when the money comes in.”
Nonetheless, Killing Buddha’s goals set the band apart from the vast majority of local acts, for the sheer fact of having a visual or narrative component to its work. In the meantime, those goals are being channeled into the music itself and into the band’s home shows at World 2. That music was initially constructed by a trio that formed two years ago, with James, Dustin Ryan on guitar and Jason Kenney on drums—former members of Avantgarden and Brother Madison, respectively. Shortly thereafter, Sandi Leeper, a longtime veteran of the local music scene and former member of Crash Star and Pyre, was brought in on vocals and keyboards. Saxophonist Michael LaPilusa—a current member, along with James, of the percussion ensemble Dreamwalkers—rounds out the group’s sound, offering another reference to Pink Floyd, this time Dick Parry’s famous sax solo on “Us and Them.”
The end result is progressive, dramatic music that tends to veer away from the tight math-rock sounds of other Sacramento prog-rock acts (local music fans might think of Killing Buddha as a slightly softer and more pop-oriented Giant Squid). Quiet moments with lush keyboard pads and swirling ambience are met with explosive guitars, thumping drums and screaming. There is a sense of the stadium grandeur in Killing Buddha—a potential problem in a smaller venue—but this sense of grandeur could work well if the band is able to realize its traveling multimedia-show goals. In the meantime, there is recording to do, this time in Boogie Dungeon, the studio run by Jason Sewell of Mr. Bungle-like freak-out group Operation: Milksnatch. You can catch Killing Buddha on September 11, when the band plays the Blue Lamp with Brother Nefarious and Spider Silk Dress.