Zappa says yes

It’s pretty seldom that I’m surprised by local music, particularly when I’m only able to see about five minutes of a performance. It’s also pretty seldom that I find myself bursting into laughter, pausing, reconsidering, worrying, becoming increasingly confused and finally laughing again during those same five minutes. But so it was last weekend during the final closing moments of Competing’s set at suburban all-ages venue Club Retro.

It seems absurd to write a review of a band’s last five minutes onstage. However, I can assure you that I stayed for the entire show that evening (which also featured Burn Heal Scar, After the Wake, the Accident Experiment and With Passion), and nothing matched the bizarre intensity of the glorious 300 seconds of Competing. Had I only been there 40 minutes earlier, my whole life might have changed.

The band is a duo, and, at first glance, they seem like Hella clones. Weirdly complex guitar work and frantic drumming combine to make dense and jagged music that is difficult to listen to but fascinating nonetheless. Two things set Competing apart: First, the two members seem to be in the middle of some kind of weird sonic war onstage, a battle against (or maybe with?) themselves, their instruments and each other. Second, the guitarist’s vocals are so strange and off kilter that the whole experience is akin to watching someone go through a death-metal version of primal-scream therapy. In a word, it was either brilliant or completely insipid. I suspect probably both are true.

This idea was supported by a few teens I talked to. One, a black-clad 16-year-old who was waiting through the four openers to hear headliners With Passion, responded with confusion when I asked her what she thought of Competing. “I don’t know,” she said. “They were … weird. Different, I guess.”

Another young man, who mumbled from his slouched position on the lounge area’s sofa, was more direct. When I asked if he liked the band, he said, “No.” When I pressed for more information, he followed up with, “They were technically good, but I couldn’t deal with that guy’s voice.” A few moments later, he said, “I guess they were original, though.” Then he paused and finally added, “I don’t know.”

That kind of audience confusion is seldom found in the Sacramento music scene. It reminded me of an apocryphal story about a young man named Alice Cooper who performed a set that successfully scared a Los Angeles club’s audience right out the front door. Only one man remained for the whole set, and that man’s name was Frank Zappa.

There’s no doubt that Zappa would have approved of Competing.

Meanwhile, local psychedelic band Model A is hitting the road for its first Southern U.S. tour in the month of March. Check out for more information and MP3s. At the same time, local psych-pop songwriter Anton Barbeau is touring the United Kingdom (again!) throughout March and into April. Watch for his return to local stages on April 23 when he plays Luna’s Café with Scott Miller. Barbeau is, as always, at

Midtowners may have seen the ubiquitous fliers for the Sacramento School of Music already, but in case you’ve missed them, the school offers training in acoustic and electric guitar, bass, piano, woodwinds, violin, mandolin, banjo and drums. Call (916) 454-0414 for more information.