Archive for December 2010

Dharma’s Top 10 Albums of 2010

Top 10 Albums of 2010

First: I do not listen to the radio.

Second: I’m not fond of most of today’s “popular” music…hence you’ll find no Kanye West or Dead Weather here. Actually I kind hate of The Dead Weather.

Third: Other than Fozy Shazam being at #1, these albums are in no particular order.

Fourth: Amoeba Records, I love you.

1) Foxy Shazam- (self titled)- Completely out of left field, this one hit me.  The show must go on, and under flaming guitar hero-homage, on it goes. With obvious Freddy Mercury and Justin Hawkins operatic glam worship, Eric McNally and his misfit band of  mates concocted an over the top, beat heavy, piano ridden, bombastic, maniacal expression of self-doubt and self-worth. They’re pumped on their own ferocity and simply want to lovingly devour you with it. Let them .

2) Mumford & Sons- “Sigh No More”- Harmonic, rustic, foot stomping, soulful.

3) Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo- You’d never know that a band at the crossroads created this album. Thankful for the retooling of “River Styx” to sound less like “Personal Jesus” and the songs that step back into “Howl” territory. Dense and weighty in spaces (lyrically and musically) as is their MO, and razor sharp guitars  make a well fleshed-out rock album.

4) The Stone Foxes- “Bears & Bulls”- Yeah they look like dirty hippies but the music is a guttural heft of classic rock/blues-fueled bravado.  These bastards killed Robert Johnson and have the nerve to sing about it. If you like The Black Keys, me thinks you’ll dig these Foxes.

5) Jordan Cook- “Seven Deadly Sins”- Oh my and I mean that live and recorded. Cook is that thing that once you’ve seen/heard him live, you wonder where has he been all your musical life.

6) Hanson- “Shout It Out”- Save your snickering for later, then get your head out of your ass and reacquaint yourself with a band that’s been making great music far beyond “Mmm Bop” on their own terms for years. Good musicians? Check. Write their own songs? Check. Great live show? Check. The term “boys to men” is entirely appropriate.

7) Dirty Sweet- “American Spiritual”- An American concept album of sorts. War mongering, celebrity obsession, mental health,..it’s all here to the tune of semi- skuzzy, southern sounding rawk. Yet not one of these dudes is from the south…unless you count Southern California.

8) Fitz & the Tantrums “Picking Up The Pieces”-  The retro Philly, blue-eyed soul revival continues but with way more style, flair, and kind of a lo-fi sound. Co-vocalists Fitz and Noelle Scaggs make a fine pop rocking pair over solid bass, drum, sax, and organ arrangements that will make you bust a dance move. Or get your groove on. Or both.

9) The Silent Comedy- “Common Faults”- A human frailty album of the best and the worst in all of us. The old-fashioned opening track is just a trick; what follows are guitars, banjos, harmonicas, Hammond organs, pianos, strings, and rollicking tales of prohibition, Sunday church and the gold rush, tempered with life and death reality checks.

10) Dead Confederate- “Sugar”- Very fond of the heavy bass and Jason’s drum work on this album (in Atlanta, the opening strum of Brantley’s bass nearly took an ear out). The southern psych/grunge has evolved; lyrically strong (always a plus), progressive guitars, and Hardy delivers some quality fey/fierce vocals.

More Than Honorable Mentions:

The Black Keys “Brothers”

Janelle Monae “Archandroid- Saw this little dynamo twice this year. Afro punk/soul is alive and well within her.

Alain Johannes “Spark- This is a dear recording of remembrance. A headphone listener.

American Bang (self titled)- Southern rockers. KOL version 2.0.

Dharma’s Top 10 Shows of 2010

Top 10 Shows of 2010

It’s been a good music year. So good, that this list is in no particular order because trying to rate them would be ridiculous. Really ridiculous.

1)    Soundgarden @ Lollapalooza, August 8th- A no-brainer of seismic proportions as the music Gods saw fit to reunite and refuel this gargantuan survivor of grunge/metal days gone by.

Soundgarden @ Lollapalooza

2)    Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ The Echoplex, Los Angeles March 11th, 12th, 14th -Music’s most unapologetic trio came home to rock, roll, reverberate, and rumble til the ears bled their gratitude. Peter Hayes, Leah Shapiro, and an under the weather Robert Been flexed the sounds of road-worn passion, grit, emotion, and leather upon the faithful with bullshit levels at a minimum. They were loud and they were loved and they’ve earned it the hard way. The extended recap can be found here: BRMC @ The Echoplex Review .

Peter Hayes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ The Echoplex

3)    Imagine Dragons @ The Viper Room, West Hollywood, July 13th- This one’s quite personal: it was my birthday. It was at The Viper Room. An awetastic friend named Chelsea booked a band that I really dig, Imagine Dragons, to play The Viper Room on my birthday. How were they? The room was sweating from the synth-pop dance and screaming for more. Position on Top 10 Shows of 2010 list secured.

Imagine Dragons

4)    Them Crooked Vultures @ The Wiltern, Los Angeles, November 17th– Rarely does the prospect of a super group live up to the salivating hype. Josh Homme, Dave Grohl, and John Paul Jones didn’t make any grandiose promises of overwhelming rock-groove brilliance; they just made a record and we found it brilliant. Putting all of their collective rock star talents on display, they were balls to the wall, acid trip dynamic. A systematic class on the art of music elevation, jams were stretched, grooves got expanded, and faces were melted. So much swagger, attack, riffs and sonic boom from one outfit but one hellishly extraordinary one.  TCV steamrolled over all who entered The Wiltern. We welcomed it.

Them Crooked Vultures

5)    Rage Against the Machine @ The Palladium, Los Angeles, July 23rd- You would never have known that this was RATM’s first LA show in 10 years for not a beat was missed, not a fist unpumped, not a body unmoshed, and not an f-bomb undropped during this benefit show in protest of Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law.  Zach de la Rocha and crew unleashed the sound and fury upon the people the likes of which I’d never seen before.

Rage Against The Machine @ The Palladium

6)    Beth Hart @ The Echoplex Los Angeles, June 13th- Beth Hart never fails. Period. No one covers Led Zeppelin or Aretha Franklin or Sam Cooke or herself like she does. No one shamelessly bares their imperfect soul via an epically (not really a word yet totally appropriate) soul-full voice on a stage for all who care enough to see the way that she does. And no one  raises the hair on my arms the way she does.

Beth Hart @ The Echoplex

7)    Helen Stellar @ Spaceland, Los Angeles, April 12th- This show winds up on my list because of how overwhelmed I was by their grand sound the very first time I saw them, where by the second song I knew I was going home with their CD. Intelligent and melodic guitar-driven rock that occasionally had me closing my eyes to hear all the pretty colors.

Helen Stellar

8)    Nico Vega @ The Roxy, West Hollywood October 30th- All you need to know is right here: Nico Vega @ The Roxy Witch Hunt

I gladly concede that this Nico Vega show truly was my #1 show of the year. Truly.

Nico Vega @ The Roxy Witch Hunt

9)    The Silent Comedy @ Every show I’ve seen this year- Music is the sound of your soul singing, dancing, crying, loving, living, and dying and San Diego’s own The Silent Comedy tend evoke all manner of these events with their special breed of well dressed (at least for a few songs), whisky marinated, Americana folk rock revival. If your feet don’t hurt by the end of their show, you’re doing something wrong. You simply have not lived until you’ve been baptized in the Church of The Silent Comedy.

The Silent ComedyThe Silent Comedy

10)  Saint Motel @ The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, July 1st- Kevin Bronson curated the “Also I Like To Rock” July concert series at The Hammer Museum and he tapped this foursome of young guns for the first show. What I saw was Saint Motel at their best and their most rocking for a packed courtyard that came ready to dance to their incredibly infectious rock with clever pop sensibilities. Local bands like Saint Motel are a gift to watch evolve and suck in new audiences.

Saint Motel @ The Hammer Museum

More Than Honorable Mentions:

Jovanotti @ The Viper Room, July 21st

Chris Cornell @ The Troubadour, January 29th

Semi Precious Weapons @ The Roxy, April 21st

Roll on 2011.

Nico Vega @ The El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, CA 2/26/10: They Are Giving

Nico Vega @ The El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, CA 2/26/2010: They Are Giving

It’s a full moon and I’m writing about a particular band which bodes well for said band.  Some bands have a loyal following and deservedly so, but Nico Vega is bordering on leading a cult whose members flock from town to town with unabashed joy in order to worship their leader. Seeing this three-piece for the first time bears a remarkable resemblance to being emotionally thunderstruck; this I know because I’ve been there, done that, and because I really dig getting feedback from Nico Vega-virgins. The slack-jawed, wide-eyed. “WTF was that?” look should somehow be registered and trademarked because they pretty much own it. The first time I saw this band in the live I walked away with my heart ripped open and many, many thoughts on the mind but two adjectives were overwhelming: purely visceral.


Nico Vega is Aja Volkman (Vox), Rich Koehler (Guitar), and Dan Epand (Drums); three individual bodies composing a singular combustible powerhouse. If you’ve ever wondered what the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun would sound like in recorded form, get yourself a copy of Nico Vega’s full length album and press ‘play’. On record their sound is challenging, and I mean that in a good way. Lyrically, musically they push and they push you around because of an inherent belief that we’re better than the average ground that we stand upon. In the live, that bullying is amplified by a factor of 10 as Nico Vega will abuse you with their love and damned if their audience doesn’t feed upon it whole.

Tonight their elevated place of authority was on the El Rey stage in front of the Los Angeles faithful who covet and claim them as their own. Once the curtain rose, the onslaught began with the immediate, seductive and sexual slink of “Taxi Cab” brought to life by the impressive spacey ambiance of Rich’s guitar, Dan’s thunderous percussion, and by a shrouded creature in pink and white with bare feet that connect her to the Earth. It didn’t take long before that being in pink and white became an unrestrained, howling, kinetic force of witchy empowerment. Aja’s voice is a blunt instrument unto itself and unlike any other: it rails ferocity and fragility somewhere between the likes of Bjork and Grace Slick but the voice is all Aja as it bellows from the depths of that tiny body of hers.

Aja Volkman

Nico Vega’s set traveled the familiar territory of unifying the initiated and uninitiated, alike, within their tribe. This band is an unusual being in that it looks, sounds, and feels nothing like what is so commonplace on the music scene; their intensity is as authentic as it is necessary, for it’s the only way they know how to communicate. With ‘only’ three members, Rich bears a great load on guitar as the chief noisemaker, but glance at his pedal board and know that he has all the tools that he needs to create aggressive shifts and tones from bass to lead. Throw in some fancy footwork ala James Brown and a mop of curls and you’ve got an axe slinger adept at the art of ebb and explode. I’m fond of the saying, “A band is only as good as its drummer.” which, if you subscribe to that theory, means that Nico Vega may just be the best band on the planet. Sometimes drummers are little more than background accompaniment, but Dan is more a force of nature, as tribal and primal as the instrument that he beats the shit out of. Between the beats he summons the beautiful violence that is the pulse of their songs and spending as much time levitated as he does seated due to his propulsive rhythmic nature, you simply cannot imagine this band without that kind of riot.

Dan Epand doing beautiful damage

Artifice, posturing, bling, game, ego, etc…these things seem to have no purpose here; its heart, soul, and unity that are firmly in their place championing change and connection on every level from personal to global. Their brand of rock/soul is tribal and social, political and loving, ethereal and sexual, and if you happen to get a little turned during a show, believe me, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last. As much a physical performer as a vocal one, Aja thrusts, kicks, and punches out every song almost as if the notes are coming from her appendages as well as her mouth only to soothingly balm any wound you may have suffered. Watch her. Tell me that she doesn’t ‘sing’ with every cell of her body whether she’s writhing on the stage floor during Rich’s blues odyssey guitar solo, climbing Dan’s bass drum, or stalking the edges of the stage to get closer, never losing her place as a musical priestess.

Enchantress much?

How did the El Rey crowd respond to Nico Vega? Like children being lead by the Pied Piper, dancing, singing, and fist pumping on command during “Gravity” with “Pick it up! Pick it up!” and souls exposed during the societal call to arms, “Beast”. One particularly shake-your-groove-thing moment in their set comes from the sassiness of “So So Fresh” despite having an off-tempo moment. I’ve heard the song live 2-3 times and it’s never been perfect but I don’t look for technical perfection from Nico Vega; I look to musically and emotionally transcend in a crowd of many to the point where we feel like one. Therein lays the perfection of Nico Vega.

Rich & Aja having a calisthenic moment

“One good thing about music when it hits you, feel no pain. So hit me with music, hit me with music now, brutalize me with music” - Bob Marley

When he spoke those words, I think Bob may have had the likes of Nico Vega in mind.


Nico Precious


17n5, originally uploaded by nicovegaofficial.

It’s so much glamorous….with a hint of filthy beauty. Are you in love yet? If not, then you’re probably not fully human.

There’s skin and bone…songs to sing underneath….lips to kiss and breathe….

Who loves you, baby? They do.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Go DITY And Self-Release “The Effects of 333”

February 17, 2010

It’s a brave new music world that we live in…just ask folks like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead who’ve eschewed the stale concept of record label management in favor of the freedom of control. Do it yourself (DITY), boys and girls, and what will be will be. Scratching that creative itch and effectively thrusting a lone digit in the direction of the man trying to hold you down, at its best, the artist inside is seeking a level of self-gratification.

On October 28th, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club released a memo of the impending:

“At exactly 3:33am visit this site for the exclusive access to the digital download of “The Effects Of 333″. A new album by BRMC featuring ten new instrumental/ambient tracks.

Released independently of any record company, it will be available as a digital download only through our new music store.

We are proud to announce our first release independent of any record company. As our first release through our Abstract Dragon label, this record is exactly that – no lyrics, no apologies, no regrets, just abstract. This has been in the works for the last 3 years at least, on and off the road, in hotel rooms, bus bunks, and back stage.

This will be available as a digital download only through our new music store. The banners will take you there at 3:33 am Pacific Time on November 1st.”

This cryptic memo had everyone who digs this band mentally, and I’m sure even physically, scratching their heads with “WTF?” wonder. Wonder about everything from the relevance of the numbers 333 (there’s been speculation…Google “333” and alcohol abuse if you care to) to why only a digital release to are these guys on crack to bring it on because any new BRMC music is good music. At the determined witching hour of 3:33 AM I just happened to be wide awake as I’d only gotten home from the Roky Erickson/Black Angels gig at The El Rey less than an hour prior. All went like clockwork; the download downloaded and for the nominal fee of $6, an abstract dragon made itself comfortable in my home and between my ears and, for some reason, I had to work at banishing the image of Sean Connery’s brogue-infected fire-breathing reptile with a heart. Ten tracks of unknown were cued and ready to play. I put the headphones on and this is what came:

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club “The Effects of 333″

“Instrumental/Ambient“…translation: free-form and obscure experimental shades of darkness and light. “And With This Comes” (which sounds like an alt-take on “20 Hours” from the American X-Baby 81 Sessions EP and stretches the richness of their signature sound distortion), “A Twisted State” (where very gentle acoustic guitar play overrides the background pickups) and “Or Needed” are the only tracks with a semblance of construct and, I assume, the tracks that most people will be able to dig into with any depth  and with little effort, inflecting their own personal head-trips and mental pictures upon these “spaces”. But for the lack of patience in how long the other seven anti-music tracks drone on (and their time spans from 3:33-7:00 minutes), it’s easy for the conveyance to get lost on the listener. Still, those other seven pieces are also “head spaces” and moody, metal-on-metal (perhaps so similar that you can’t tell one from the other let alone assign the correct title to them), whether you call them a “pile of steaming poo” (as one BRMC forum member did), traffic noise, sonic accidents resulting from too much drug use or what lies beneath the surface of these men/musicians coming to light. Even a reading of the song titles in order (or hell, scramble them for maximum confusion or an epiphany) elucidates a train of thought, also abstract, but nonetheless BRMC. If their 2005 left turn release “Howl” left even their most devoted fans shaking their heads, visualize a few of them now going cross-eyed trying to embrace these industrial echoes of nightmares, daydreams, unresolved love/anger or bad Chinese food. Nothing here has any traction outside of the value placed on it by its creator and its listener; and my, but isn’t that the pure definition of independent music? Yes, I think so.

So in that respect, as no other really matters (“no lyrics, no apologies, no regrets, just abstract.”), “The Effects Of 333″ is Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s success and, as a non-artist of any kind, I can only assume to know or appreciate the level of satisfaction that comes with. Now whether you like it, love it or loathe it, you’re certainly in no way wrong since our headspaces all get tuned and turned on as specifically as our bodies do. Now I was listening to “Sedated With Sterilized Tongues” when I wrote those words and my head was very turned on.

So this is what they’ve been keeping in the pockets of their leather jackets. You can feel “The Effects of 333” for yourself by heading over to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s digital store at: http://www.brmcdigitaldownloads.com


1. The Effects of 333
2. Still No Answer
3. I Know You’re In There
4. And With This Comes
5. A Sad State
6. A Twisted State
7. Sedated With Sterilized Tongues
8. We’re Not Welcome Alone
9. Or Needed
10. And When Was Better

How To Be One With “The West”- Spindrift @ Amoeba Records, 11/18/2008

Amoeba Records of Hollywood, California is a gifted establishment that relishes in the presentation of auditory sights and sounds to its resident Angelinos and visitors from all corners of the globe. The inherent beauty of the Amoeba vibe lies within the lexicon of a single, solitary word: independent. It’s not just a word, it’s a spirit and Amoeba thrives because of it and has a lot of my money to prove it.

Every ordinary business day Amoeba Records sells music and buys music, but on a fairly regular basis it also acts as a venue and showcases live music and, hey, they do it for free. Now that’s an admission price that I can dig into.

Especially when the music that they showcase runs deep in blown prairie dust and paints pictures of high noon showdowns on the boulevard. Tonight’s in-store show was in honor of the release of Spindrift’s latest proper release, “The West,” somewhat of a companion piece to the spooky 2006 release/soundtrack, The Legend of God’s Gun (a soundtrack that, at the time, had no movie but that’s neither here nor there). Spindrift is many things: it’s a collective born of prior collectives, it’s the cerebral concept of a dreamer, it’s a haunting periodic cosmic trip, and it’s a kaleidoscopic homage to the good, the bad and the ugly. Literally.

What else can I say about Spindrift? Remembering the first time that I saw them in January of this year, I recall being kind of dumbstruck; almost as if something nefarious had been slipped under my tongue or I’d hit off of a peace pipe. I don’t know. What I do know is that there was this hazy, spacey wash of reverb and what was The Key Club had suddenly become a low brow saloon and I can honestly say that I saw stars. Seriously. Lead singer/guitar slinger Kirpatrick Thomas was wearing a jacket strewn with day-glow constellations that caught the light and entertained me right along with the music. Well, I’ve seen them a few times since then and every subsequent time that we’ve met, I’ve liked them that much more.

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In my head, stories that examine the unwritten codes men and women lived and died by out on the plains take color and shape only to leave me struggling not to bust out in a two-step. That could’ve been a little embarrassing on the floor of Amoeba Records but the music, akin to how the soul of the west was blazed yet remained untamed, falls under the category of a rock and roll “psychedelic western revival.” No words are more apropos and it’s an eerily beautiful thing, I say. It’s not necessary that you have a strange love for Italio-Westerns, know who Lee van Cleef was or smoke a cheroot to appreciate this music…it wouldn’t hurt, but it’s hardly a prerequisite. Tracks like the vocalized “The New West” are all encompassing psychedelic trips, but hearing the drowned in blues/beer/whisky harmonica stomping track, “The Wind” alone was worth the price of admission. Oh wait…this was a free show.

Anyhoo, Kirpatrick Thomas, Dave Koenig, Henry Evans, Julie Patterson, Marcos Diableros, Jason “Plucky” Anchondo, and Dan Allaire are the mystical, mystery troupe Spindrift and are unique and, more importantly, inspired. And independent. Remember, it’s not just a word, it’s a spirit and I insist that you get some.

Stay tuned for more from these guys and gal and, in the meantime, free your mind and the rest will follow. Now delve into the music and catch the sounds of the desert emoting from a harmonica and guitar pedal.

WARNING: Not For The Musically Colour-Blind, Colourmusic @ Spaceland 12/6/2008

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing quite a few shows this year and in these tough economic times, that’s something not to be taken for granted. Something else not to be taken for granted is the gift that you receive when you experience something out of the box that takes you somewhere that you never expected to go….and you approve of the destination. And what could there possibly be to disapprove of here when you have a chap from Northern England (Nick Turner) and an Oklahoman (Ryan Hendrix) putting their opposing musical heads together (one liked U2 and Metallica while the other leaned towards more urbane Brit rock fare) to become one?

It’s possible that Oklahoma (with a touch of across-the-pond Britishness) may become known as a birthplace of auditory innovation and musical mindf*cks for the mere fact that they have spawned the likes of, well, The Flaming Lips, The Gap Band (I’m not really counting Color Me Badd, here), and this four-piece, color scheming, sonically ambitious crew with an affinity for textural sounds, melodious hooks and a fierce live show. With college degrees from Oklahoma State University in hand for all, [sarcasm]which are obviously being well utilized[/sarcasm], Colourmusic brings some rock that truly rolls left of center.

And white suits. Where there used to be colorful costumes and loony theatrical stage antics (prom themes, the Roy G. Biv period), now they’re all pristinely clad in white, epitomizing the proverbial blank canvas on which one can project anything and everything under the sun that the mind can conjure and what reflects will be of your own making. So being in the basic surroundings of Spaceland watching Colourmusic press “play’ on their collective music science project left me wide open to experiencing the performance of a band whose MP3’s left me scratching my brain in confusion. I had heard some of their tunes beforehand and my innate and automatic reaction was “What the fuck?”

Colourmusic’s gig is creating music based on Sir Isaac Newton’s theory on color and sound (maybe those college degrees were useful, after all). Now if you, too, are saying, “What the fuck?” according to front man Ryan Hendrix, “That’s the perfect response.” Ahhh, Ryan. A man after my own heart.

Tonight’s show was brought to me by the color orange. “F, Monday, Orange, February, Venus, Lunatic, 1 or 13″ is the incomprehensible title of their first full length album and smacks of someone indulging in a little too much peyote but the fruit it bears is fantastic. Think heavily rhythm driven psycho-sing-a-long pop with crushing guitars drowning in lovely distortion. A mere 25 seconds into their monster “Put In A Little Gas” and I’m stomping my feet and paying them a high compliment, as I can hear that dense fuzz and groove that makes me love Black Rebel Motorcycle Club so….only to be completely nonplussed by the mash-up of fake British accents (or real if that’s Nick Turner I’m listening to) and Americana dialect.

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I really cannot do this band’s live performance justice via the written word due to the complex yet playful nature of their music which, as whimsical and vibrantly electric as it sounds on record, is a whole other animal when fleshed out in the live; a little salty, dirty, gritty. Front and center is Ryan Hendrix whose vocal man/boy inflection and physical performance art are catalytic energy while his co-conspirator in this ambient madness, Turner gives up a level of wail and crunch with his guitar which assists in taking this weird alt-pop atmosphere from “gimmicky” to serious ear business. Toss in the percussive factor of Colin Fleishacker (bass that kicks every ass in “Yes!”) and Nick Ley (drums) as forceful rhythmic drivers, and the cool weirdness of their palette is complete. Add a little hand clap, charmed harmonies, cowbell and lyrics like “diddley diddley dee”, “hey la la” (not kidding), and the end results in art, color and music scientifically and successfully integrated.

It’s free-spirited, daring, yet intelligent bands like Colourmusic that redeem the overused music genres we call “indie” and “alternative.” And you can hear all the pretty colours without having to take a hit of Ecstasy. Much better for your health that way.

Set List: Rock ‘n’ Roll Polar Bear, You Can Call Me By My Name, Jack and Jill (A Duet), The Gospel Song, Circles, Spring Song, Put In A Little Gas, Dolphins & Unicorns, You For Leaving Me, Yes!

Oh, and when you go to their show (as I know you will), take a moment and say “hi” to Nick the Brit and see if you can slip the “C” word into the conversation. You know, that special for the female anatomy that Americans (especially American women) find so, so rude but the English toss around as easily as “cheers”? He likes that.

Colourmusic- Official Site

Colourmusic- Myspace

From the womb of the Goddess of mirth and psychedelica…The Venus Illuminato

The Venus Illuminato @ The Tangier 9/10/2008

The Venus Illuminato

I told you that I’d chat you up about The Venus Illuminato later, didn’t I?

When last we saw your humble correspondent, she (that’s me, folks) was basking in the afterglow (get your mind out of the gutter) of having unexpectedly experienced the sonic charm of The Atma at The Silverlake Lounge. What a magical musical eve it was….except for the fact that the band that I actually went there to see, The Venus Illuminato, had the show from hell wrought with technical difficulties.

But like a true champion, the beauty is in the ability to pick oneself up and out of the fetal position that you assumed on the stage floor and soldier on. Perhaps what happens at The Silverlake Lounge, stays at The Silverlake Lounge.

I count myself lucky in many aspects of life, particularly so when it comes to how fortunate I am to be surrounded by music in abundance. Sure, Southern California is flawed and known as the land of the fruits and nuts but it is surely worth its weight in avocados when it comes to the music that thrives here.

Brandon Kennedy

Balladeers. Troubadours. Minstrels. Slaves to periodic romance. Sons born from the womb of the Goddess of mirth and psychedelica. Men may very well be from Mars but these gentlemen covet the name of The Venus Illuminato.

First let me say that The Venus Illuminato’s music may very well defy description and/or categorization as well as being pigeonholed into a specific genre, but it’s safe to say that it and they would not be terribly out of place busking on a corner outside of a coffee house. They are…it is, at its simplest, classic chamber music on mushrooms. I know that sounds silly, particularly in today’s musical atmosphere, but you have to go with me on this. Cue the seductive “Mt. Olympus” and see if it doesn’t practically surgically extract the urge in you to grab the nearest guy or girl, execute a curtsy or bow, launch into a Baroque and listen to the pretty colors.

The Venus Illuminato

Rob Franco (vox, guitar, harmonica) and Brandon Kennedy (lead guitar) are mere babes as a band (around 2 years old) but they bring to the table a rich palette of sound that’s unique on the ears. Rob’s voice, an expressive tenor, just happens to be well suited to romantic songcraft and visualization, yet could easily front something harder. I’m thinking that perhaps I should let their own words speak for them so, with the vibrant dialogue of Rob and Brandon, follow where this leads you:

“Picture yourself being knifed by a gypsy on board a high-jacked merchant ship off the coast of Morocco while an 1860′s civil war band drops some acid and does their best interpretation of 70′s English psychedelia.”

Any questions?

Rob Franco

To catch them in the live is to trip a bit as, when this band plays, they have a very distinct following of friends/supporters equal to a troupe of loving, hip/hippie groupies who clap, stomp, tambourine shake, twirl and make merry almost on cue, bruising the floor with their enthusiasm. No finer example than during the song “The Waltz”; a restrained sultry piece that ebbs and flows with the gentle violin play of Chris Swanson and Brandon’s lively acoustic guitar; only to culminate with brashness from the cymbals. The music is a bold blending of folk rock and ethereal romance; rich and gorgeous, heady and fun. With a band behind the duo (soon to be joined by an upright bass), the music expands and fleshes out what could ordinarily be limitations when you think that one could only do so much with this type of sound, but make no mistake, this weirdness is the embodiment of “indie rock”. Brandon Kennedy’s elegant guitar work (acoustic and electric) is a star, as nothing can replace such warmth and when Chris Swanson steps up for violin duties, you can almost hear the proverbial pin drop.

Merry makers getting their waltz on. Literally.

Brandon has a feather in his cap and can rock a pink shirt like nobody’s business. Rob performs barefoot (and if you’re lucky, shirtless) and has the right to wear low slung pants. Burning incense at the front of the stage cleanses, prepares and sets the scene for the loveliness to come. This night at the Tangier, all went according to plan and The Venus Illuminato can consider themselves completely redeemed from the Silverlake Lounge debacle. At the end of that show, Rob was reluctant to even tell the crowd their name. At the end of this show he could speak it with pride.

Set list: Company With Kings; Weary Brother; Farmer’s Daughter; The Waltz; Mt. Olympus; Shake The Sun

So onward ye vagabonds and bohemian lovers, alike; remember that good music is timeless and that the rock can gracefully roll when creative liberties are taken. Find enlightenment and The Venus Illuminato at http://www.myspace.com/venusilluminato and befriend them posthaste.

That’s as far as my Olde English is going to go. For now.

You can also grab a copy of their “Company With Kings” CD to enjoy at your leisure and your leisure is what it will inspire.

Notes From the Past….THE WHIGS

Getting Whiggy With It…Two Times.

The Whigs
9/17/08- The Detroit Bar, Costa Mesa, CA
9/20/08- San Diego Street Scene

Parker Gispert has a thick, throaty growl with a touch of country; Tim Deaux is a mutton-chopped bass player light on his feet; Julian Dorio is a fiercely powerful frenzy with sticks in his hands….all of the individual parts equal an impressive musical whole born of Athens, GA called The Whigs.   And, no, their name is not a derivative of The Afghan Whigs. That’s straight from the mouth of babes…or the mouth of drummer.

Think some of the best stuff that has come by way of quality college radio; under the radar and bursting at the gills with raucousness and healthy, noisy guitars.

Think southern rock that you actually don’t mind constantly exploding out of the garage three houses down from you. You only wish that they’d invite you over for a beer and a jam session.

Think well constructed hooks, crashing melodic noise, pop-friendly but drowning in rock riffs.

Think this is good stuff.

The Whigs are young and talented and hitting on all cylinders and I get the feeling that this is their time to show the uninformed what driven youth and young manhood can bring to a stage.

Did you catch that segue? It’ll come in handy later.

Julian Dorio
I caught The Whigs on 9/17 at The Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa and on 9/20 at San Diego’s Street Scene. Two shows, two different settings. The Detroit Bar show was their opening set in a dark, cozy club atmosphere as they were banging out some shows with Tokyo Police Club; Street Scene had them rocking in the sunshine on an elevated festival stage on a San Diego street. Both settings had them playing to a healthy number of people who had no idea who they were but there was a difference. To me, the difference between the two performances was not the sunshine…it was the stage. The physical stage. That’s because these guys need room to move about because, if they share nothing else with you, they will share their energy and energy is half the rock and roll battle. Lucky for us, Julian Dorio (drums) stays stationary because the energy that he harnesses behind the kit could very well hurt somebody if allowed to traverse a stage. But Parker Gispert and Tim Deaux make the spaces their own, as they set off a head-on guitar/bass collision, mobile to the grooves and chords and, fortunately, all three of them have great hair made for thrashing with enthusiasm.  

Parker Gispart

Both sets showcased some of the band’s meatiest and tightest pieces of work from their 2008 release “Mission Control” and “Give ‘Em All A Big Fat Lip” from 2005: “Like A Vibration”, “OK Alright”, “Hot Bed”, “Already Young”, “Right Hand On My Heart”. Throughout their set, it’s a revelation to hear Gispert vocally navigate the songs from gentle honey tones to outright howls that come from God knows where. Although I do worry when he attempts to swallow the microphone.

Both shows opened with the swaying title track “Mission Control” (the drums, alone, make it a car-worthy album. Turn it up.) and upped the rock factor by 10 and left it there throughout, only (barely) cooling things down long enough to allow Tim to shine (and I do mean shine) on guitar and Parker on keyboards for“Half The World Away”. There are enough Southern touches that honor where they come from but the proof is in the heft of their weighty, solid beats, jumpy bass and rangy guitar and their ability to sink themselves into your ear. Chorus, hook, line and you are sunk.

The Detroit Bar and San Diego Street Scene crowds both approved of what they saw and heard and, at the end of both sets, people asked me the name of the band which is always a good sign. That’s because this is good stuff. Does it matter that they’re signed to Dave Matthews’ label? Absolutely not, at least not to me. What matters is that they’re signed and have the opportunity to expand their craft and blow people away on stages across the country.

Tim Deaux

Some of you lucky b*$@*# can also catch them pulling opening act duty with yet another mighty band that’s as Southern as a mint julep: the Kings of Leon. Now that’s an ass-kicking double-bill, my friend, and now the segue has come full circle. Kings of Leon = “Youth and Young Manhood”. If you don’t have that album, you should.   Damn. I just realized that I’ve seen The Whigs three times this year. I guess that means that I like them. And that the title of this piece is all wrong.

Notes From The Past…”The Ringers @ Detroit Bar, Costa Mesa 4/13/2009″

In honor of the RIDICULOUSLY banging time that we had Saturday night courtesy of the Viper Room’s “10 Days in 2010″ show series, Saturday night’s main attraction….THE RINGERS!!!

The Ringers @ Detroit Bar, Costa Mesa 4/13/09
Mayhem-lite ensues and I live to tell about it.

I have a confession to make: I was frightened. The kind of frightened that makes you question whether or not your health insurance covers self inflicted acts of mayhem. Do you know the California penal code definition of “mayhem”? I do. I know a lot and I also know that I don’t want to lose an earlobe or a piece of my lower lip just to fill a rock/punk jones and admire the ass of a guy in tight, low riding jeans three sizes smaller than what I wear.

Anyhoo, asses aside, it’s all about the music, it’s all about the art, and it’s all about the performance.

Bless those fucking Ringers, it’s all about the performance art of the music.

First: The Detroit Bar is a lot of things; it’s low brow, it’s in Costa Mesa and tucked inside of a strip mall walking distance from some rather satisfying after-hours tacos and donuts; it’s like the OC’s version of what used to be Safari Sam’s. To be honest, it’s a bit ghetto but that’s an integral part of its charm as a venue even if I am loath to put my elbows on the bar. The Detroit Bar’s vibe is so basic that nothing about the joint makes you feel uncomfortable or as if you require qualifications to be there. Just be there. Just be there when raucous musical shit goes down like a balls-to-the-wall performance by The Ringers, who are pulling residency duty at the Detroit Bar this month.

There’s no law that says that all of the good bands, regardless of media-induced genre labeling, come from LA; it’s just a factual statistic that many, many good bands live there because it’s prime real estate of “the scene”. The Stooges didn’t hail from LA but if in some shape or form they were to be reborn to the 00’s for the sole purpose of harnessing a new wave of raw rock power, they would be called The Ringers. How flipping appropriate.

Second: Am I supposed to take this shtick seriously? Everyone but the drummer is named Joe. The bass player sported a mullet and a sleeveless Valient Thorr t-shirt proudly, and I do mean proudly (when I saw him roaming the room earlier in the eve, I thought he must be kidding; he wasn’t). The singer has “Ringer” tattooed vertically on his serratus. Does the semi-stoned Nordic rock god-ness named “White Gold” pimping moo juice look familiar? Dear God, yes he does (he’s the star of those “Got Milk?” commercials that are the sheer essence of “Spinal Tap”) and if I didn’t know any better- which I don’t, so who’s to say- I’d swear that Jesse Hughes had an illegitimate half brother running amuck intent on shedding his inhibitions and taking yours with him.

Tonight’s performance artistry included Joe, the singer, manhandling a female, leading a male fan around by his pink tie, fending off imaginary beasts with a bar stool ala Siegfried & Roy, tossing a sweat soaked t-shirt over my head, and ripping off some loud and loose guitar chords to get in touch with his and your inner punk. At its heart are tales of filthy love, loud music, and good fun to encourage you to commit the act of partying and what The Ringers do, which is bound to garner repeat offenders show after show, is take the earnest thrash of a haphazard genre and float it out with hook after rocking hook. So even if blood is spilled or a tooth gets loosed, chances are you will have been clapping your hands and singing/yelling a catchy chorus right before it happened. “Scene You See” has an elementary bounce rescued by punches of Ramones-esque “Hey! Hey!” and yes, “Holy Zipper” is about wanting to get busy with what’s underneath a foxy nun’s habit. Not kidding, but it’s all a beautifully controlled madness even though they are notorious for their unpredictable stage shows (what will they wear, do and who will they do it to?) as Joe, the guitar guy, goes after some feedback while singer Joe struts, bellows, and shakes his tiny ass while marking the room as his animal playground. All of this feral and quite sweaty dramatic flair would be little more than shtick if the music were lacking but it’s not. The band is a tight outfit with loose swagger and energetic stomp filled rock. For exemplars, see their latest CD “Headlocks & Highkicks” which are two things you may either witness or wind up in at a show. The Ringers follow in some well worn footsteps as what they do has been done before and will surely be done again. Not everyone can be an innovator (and not everyone need be) but then not all innovators can rock their balls off like The Ringers can.

Said headlock

Enjoy the rest of their Monday night residency at the Detroit Bar through the month of April or catch them when they come to a city near you. It won’t hurt. Much. I promise.

The Ringers are: Joe Hursley (vox, guitar); Joe Robinson (lead guitar); Joe Stiteler (bass); Patrick Hursley (drums).


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