The Damned – Belly Up Tavern San Diego 4/19/16

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It is an interesting experience seeing The Damned live in 2016.  They are of course one of the original and seminal British punk bands – contemporaries of bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash.  They even have the distinction of issuing the first punk single (“New Rose” in 1976) and LP (Damned Damned Damned in 1977).  Though they were never as political as the Clash, or as nihilistic as the Sex Pistols, The Damned still presented a view into the feelings, actions and musical appetite of the disaffected youth of the day.

Yet while the Sex Pistols self-destructed after just one album and an aborted US tour, and The Clash burned brightly but ran out of fuel by the mid-80’s, here we are in 2016 and The Damned are still going strong.  They are a different group now to be sure, though the creative team of David Vanian on vocals and Captain Sensible on guitar remain, their glory days of “New Rose,” “Smash it Up” and “Neat Neat Neat” are from a long ago era.  But that’s not really a bad thing, since along the way they actually became good musicians and learned how to write songs with a more varied sound and feeling.

That brings us to a sold out show at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.  The crowd arrived early and already had a buzzing energy after a great opening set by local garage/surf rockers the Creepy Creeps.  The Damned then hit the stage with the anthemic “Street of Dreams” off their 1985 album Phantasmagoria.  This sweeping song, with Vanian’s vocals giving it a cinematic scale, was the perfect opening number to show what the Damned have become.  By Phantasmagoria the Damned were a punk band that didn’t write punk songs anymore – though they could, and still do, still let it all hang out with punk rock fury when they play the older songs live, they had morphed into something bigger and grander and darker.

So that’s what we got all night during a 2 hour 18 minute set.  They played songs from throughout their carreer – from the pedal-to-the-metal  roar of “Love Song” off the classic 1979 album, Machine Gun Etiquette; to the unhinged attack of “Ignite” off the 1982 LP, Strawberries; to the goth rock majesty of “Amen” off the 2001 record, Grave Disorder (which marked the return of Captain Sensible after a 19 year absence).  And while the crowd was into it from the start, they would absolutely erupt when the band launched into one of its true classics like: “Love Song,” “Alone Again Or,” “Neat Neat Neat,” “New Rose,” and “Smash It Up”.  Throughout this 20 song set,the Damned, whose core members are all in their late 50’s to early 60’s, played with a passion and energy that shows no signs of slowing down.


Side Note- Captain Sensible gave a shout out to a local brewery (I think it was Stone) saying that when they used to tour the states they’d bring their own beer because ours was “shit”.  But now when they come over, it’s so good that they bring our beer back home with them!

I did not get any video from this show. Really, I think the Belly Up is the worst venue in town when it is sold out and I couldn’t get a good angle from where I was.  So here are a few other videos from that show (my thanks to the photographers):

Disco Man     Neat Neat Neat     Amen     New Rose     Smash It Up

 

 

Citrus & Katie – The Merrow 4/26/16

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On my way down to see Black Mountain at the Casbah (see my review here) I stopped in at The Merrow to see Citrus & Katie play.  As they were the first out of four bands to hit the stage that night, the crowd, while enthusiastic, was still relatively small.  But the ones smart enough to get there in time were treated to a thoroughly enjoyable set of songs.  Fortunately, one of the early arrivals was my friend Bella Lugosy, aka AcidTones, who took the fantastic pictures included with this story.

The Katie referenced in the band’s name is Katie Howard, lead singer of local psych/surf/indie rock band Big Bloom and co-owner of the Little Dame art/retail shop in North Park.  Then I used my powers of deduction to figure out that the remaining members – Oscar Carrion (from Splavender) on guitar, Grant Gilbert on bass (also in Big Bloom), Andre Flores on keys/sax, and Brian Disney on drums – were Citrus.  Together they played a hybrid of different styles that I don’t believe I’ve heard before.

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My first thought as I listened to Citrus & Katie was that they are part of some sub-genre like “indie-lounge-jazz”.  The opening song had Katie singing beautifully over the top of Oscar’s fluid, seemingly effortless, guitar playing.  And some of the songs were all about that kind of vibe – but then all of a sudden the structure would break down, sometimes into a guitar freak-out and  at other times each instrument would go in an unexpected direction.  Sometimes this would happen all at the same time – as if each musician was playing a different song simultaneously.  Please know, I mean that in the best possible way as the resulting sound was thrilling.

A highlight of the show was the song “Bounce” which starts with a funky riff from Oscar; he is soon joined by Brian with a spare but powerful rhythm and by Grant with a groovy bass line;  Andre provides just the right shading with his keys; and only then does Katie enter the song like a chanteuse in some dark Parisian expat nightclub.  After the first set of verses, Oscar lets loose a syncopated, almost prog-rock, guitar solo before settling back into the groove. In the second break Grant holds down the beat AND provides melodic runs with Oscar’s guitar backing him up.  Then the guitar drops out, the bass comes up and Andre lets loose with a ferocious sax solo.  Then the song ascends (descends maybe?!) into some form of organized cacophony!

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I have to admit that I don’t know much about jazz but my instincts tell me that Citrus & Katie use jazz as a starting point and then take the songs in different and unexpected directions.  This allows them to both contrast with the majority of indie acts playing the local scene but still appeal to wide range of listeners who are drawn to their musicianship, experimental song structures, and obvious love of playing together.

Here’s a video I took of their new song “Creature” from this show and here’s a video of “Bounce” by AcidTones from a show at the Black Kat last year.

 

 

Black Mountain – The Casbah, San Diego 4-26-16

Black Mountain took the small stage at the Casbah (check out the picture below to see how little room there is for the players once all the equipment is set up) and put on an epic show.  They began with the first two songs, “Mothers of the Sun” and “Florian Saucer Attack”, off of IV, their highly anticipated new LP.  These numbers set the stage perfectly for the rest of this alternately restrained, heavy, doomy, proggy and mostly really fucking loud show!

Add in the main set’s closing number, the 9-minute opus “Space to Bakersfield”, and if these song titles suggest a hint of prog rock from years past, you’d be right on the money.  Keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt utilized his Moog synthesizer throughout the set, but especially on the new songs like the first two and others like “Defector” and “You Can Dream”.  The Moog added a retro layer – like Rush circa “Tom Sawyer” – to Black Mountain’s already varied sound.  I spoke with Schmidt after the show and he confirmed that the band is a fan of that era and style of music and it just fit naturally with the songs they were writing for this album.

In all, Black Mountain played eight of the ten tracks off of IV – which arrived just a couple of months ago after a wait of nearly six years since their last album, the excellent Wilderness Heart.  I asked songwriter/guitarist Stephen McBean about the long gap between albums and he said that it was filled with A LOT of touring for Black Mountain, plus all the members have side projects with which they record and tour as well; so actually they had all been quite busy.  He did share that he believes the next Black Mountain LP will come along much quicker this time.

Along with the new material they sprinkled songs from throughout their catalog.  “Stormy High”, from their second album, In the Future, followed the initial 1-2 punch from IV and showed just how heavy and massive Black Mountain can sound.  Next up was “Drugonaut” off their self-titled debut record, which came out in 2005.  This song starts off with a rolling bass line and funky wah wah guitar and then slowly builds until it ends with an extended psychedelic freak-out of a guitar solo. Then a couple songs later we got the set-piece, “Tyrants”, which starts with Joshua Wells laying down a long, pummeling drum part as the guitar, keys and bass join together for a heroic introduction.  This is followed by a quiet, melodic section featuring McBean and singer Amber Webber joining together on vocals.  This interlude is just a feint though as the song builds from that towards a monumental riff and  guitar solo from McBean.

While Black Mountain’s sound can be as immense as their name suggests, they also know how to provide contrast and space in their music, as all of the instruments and voices have a chance to shine on their own while still completely meshing with each other.  Singer/guitarist Amber Weber provides much of the balance to Black Mountain’s sound with her clear, and at times haunting, vibrato-laden vocals.  It is her voice as much as McBean’s huge guitar sound that helps Black Mountain stand out from the pack.  Make no mistake though – when they decide to cut loose – they are as loud as any group I’ve ever heard.  Standing near the stage during the final song, “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around”, I felt like I was taking the music in through my entire body and not just my ears.

Check out these videos from the show:  “Stormy High”   “Tyrants”   “Line Them All Up”

Here’s the setlist I submitted for the show:  Black Mountain Setlist


Side Note:  I had  chance to speak with Amber Webber after the show and asked her a couple of questions. I mentioned that the last time I saw her was there at the Casbah with her band Lightning Dust.  This group, which includes BM’s drummer Joshua Wells, is a much mellower and more melodic affair than the mother group. I asked if she minded coming back to the small, though prestigious Casbah, after playing the larger/nicer Belly Up tavern the last time Black Mountain came through town.  She reminded me that The Black Angels basically co-headlined that show with them, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to book it.  She also said that she really liked the Casbah and how enthusiastic the fans were whenever they played there.

Learn more about Black Mountain and buy their records here at Jagjaguwar

Here are some BM side projects to check out:  Pink Mountaintops, Lightning Dust, Kodiak Deathbeds, Blood Meridian, Obliterations, Sinoia Caves, Grim Tower

 

Wolfmother & Deap Vally – San Diego – 3/23/16

This was the perfect double bill at the House of Blues here in San Diego.  Both groups, L.A.’s Deap Vally and Australia’s Wolfmother, are good enough and big enough to headline the venue, but with both of them they provided a real synergy where by playing together they were each better than if they were on their own.  This led to a sold out concert with the crowd showing up earlier than usual to catch the openers and then losing their minds through most of the headliner’s set.

First up was the duo Deap Vally.  The last time I caught this band was opening for Band of Skulls at the same venue a couple of years ago.  They were good then but they are WAY better now!  These two women and their music represent everything that rock n roll is all about. Their show was full of huge choruses, monstrous riffs and a ferocious intensity from start to finish.  I spoke with the drummer, Julie Edwards, after the show and she shared that they expect to have a new album out in the fall.  I will be shocked if they aren’t the headliners the next time they play this venue in San Diego.

Here are two songs from the show: the hit “Baby I Call Hell” and a new song, “Reflection”.


Next up was Wolfmother. I remember the exact moment I discovered this retro-leaning hard-rocking Aussie power trio.  I was on an airplane watching a surf video on my laptop and the song “Woman” was used for an sequence featuring Kelly Slater in the Quiksilver video Young Guns 2 (the scene starts at 24:40).  As soon as I got home I picked up their self-titled debut album and have been a fan ever since.

Since that 2005 debut the group has been through a lot of turmoil and lineup changes and we discovered that the band really was just guitarist/singer Andrew Stockdale and whoever played with him.  Regardless of all the drama- Wolfmother brings back the rock that I grew up with, combining elements of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy and mixing it with the modern hard rock of groups like the White Stripes.  And all of this was shown on stage this night as they played  a 19 song set from throughout their career. This was the rare concert where the band did not leave out a single song that I wanted to hear. [here’s the setlist from the show]

Wolfmother came out of the gates as a fully formed hard rock behemoth in 2005; then grew even more powerful after the followup LP, the epic Cosmic Egg, dropped in 2009.  After that the band seemed to lose its way somewhat, with Stockdale releasing a solo album, Keep Moving, in 2013 and a hurried third Wolfmother LP titled New Crown 2014.  While these were both solid albums they seemed to be almost brushed aside by both Stockdale and the fans.  At this show there were no songs played from Keep Moving and only one song off of New Crown, the hard charging “How Many Times”.  But based on the quality of their new album, Victorious, and the sold out crowd’s rapturous reception at this show, I believe the band has returned to form and is ready to continue what it started over a decade ago.

Here’s the title track off their new album, “Victorious” from the House of Blues show.

Redwoods Revue – The Music Box – 4/1/16

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I’m sure there are a lot of great local music scenes spread throughout the country with talented, creative and ambitious musicians playing in bands to crowds large and small. But there seems to be something special going on in San Diego right now as the number of worthwhile bands that can be found across stages throughout our county is truly impressive.  On almost any particular night there is a group worth checking out somewhere: from the Soda Bar in North Park to the Casbah in Little Italy to the Pour House in Oceanside.
This was never more apparent than at the Music Box on April 1st when the Redwoods Revue II took over the swanky downtown venue.  On this night Al Howard and the gang at Redwoods Music put on a show with five acts from their roster: Cardinal Moon, Dani Bell & the Tarantist, Birdy Bardot, The Midnight Pine and Rebecca Jade & the Cold Fact.  I’ve seen a lot of local bands at a bunch of different venues but I’d always wondered what they would look and sound like on a bigger stage with a superior sound system and top-notch lighting.  Now I know.  They look and sound awesome!

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Hiroshima Mockingbirds – Til-Two Club, San Diego – 4/9/16

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OK, so I think I’ve got this figured out now.  Jon Bonser, the drummer for The New Kinetics and Soft Lions (on the right), wanted to play guitar.  And Brian Reilly from the New Kinetics (center) felt left out with only one band. So in order to resolve these issues they obviously needed to form a new band – and call it the Hiroshima Mockingbirds.  Makes sense to me.

This was the third time I’ve seen a debut show in the past month (including Creepseed and Cardinal Moon) and like the other two, if they hadn’t told us it was their first set we never would have guessed.  Everything about the HM’s made it seem like they’ve been around for awhile and will be around for some time.  They fit perfectly into the indie/garage scene that is revitalizing rock n’ roll on a local and national level.

For at least twenty years now I’ve heard and read that rock is dead or dying (fuck you Gene Simmons) but when I see a set by a new band like the Hiroshima Mockingbirds I know that I’ve got nothing at all to worry about.

Here’s a video of “Jonny’s Trees”: Hiroshima Mockingbirds at the Til-Two Club

Pins – Too Little Too Late

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https://vimeo.com/118910607

When I was a senior at UCSB I had a mass media course and along with two friends in the class we put together music and slide show presentation focusing on the still emerging punk rock scene. We explored how the genre was influenced by the society at large and in turn how our culture was being influenced by punk rock.  The final 90 seconds of the presentation had every picture we could find of punk musicians and fans flipping off the camera set to music by the Germs, Fear, Circle Jerks, X and others.

This song by UK indie pop/punkers Pins, shows that 35 years later punk’s influence is still going strong and that middle fingers are still a useful form of communication.

Check out Pins on their website and facebook page.