Ah, summer: A veritable landslide of gala outdoor festivals, stylish East Bay warehouse parties, and high-profile SF concerts bolstered by plum local openers awaits you in months upcoming. Behold ten Bay Area big-shots -- a few neophytes, a few repeat offenders -- who will regale you with sound and fury as you munch on falafel, gawk at esoteric modern art, and suck down $8 vodka tonics. Unless you're at a Voetsek show, of course, in which case you'll simply be getting your ass kicked.
Vamanos Palenque! thundered a rail-thin old-timer as this ace Cuban music ensemble started throwing down at Berkeley's recent Jazz on Fourth Street Festival. He then busied himself by gyrating amusingly and shouting Arriba! at all the nubile young ladies suddenly compelled to dance in the streets themselves. Palenque specializes in son montuno, a rhythmically complex but simply joyous dance music that has made this sextet a fan- and family-favorite for a coupla years now. Led by Cuban native and big ol' teddy bear German Dontien, the crew also features the nimble flute stylings of Chloe Scott and groovy Adam Sandler-lookin' dude Ben Krames on miscellaneous percussion. Fabulous music to spin around publicly and unself-consciously to. Vamanos.
"THERE ARE NO GUITARS ON THIS ALBUM," declare the liner notes to Dark Opus, the debut from this rather unsubtle and unconventional metal trio. Instrumentation: Violin, drums, cello. Prognosis: rad. Violinic mastermind Anton Patzner -- he of Bay Area indie outfit the Audrye Sessions, and more recently and prominently a member of Bright Eyes' touring band -- shreds through bitchin' tracks with titles like "The Hour Is at Hand," "Pitfires of Hell," and "Finis Omne" with a mixture of metal menace and manic melody. Ultimately, yes, it is kind of hard to believe that these thick, pulverizing tunes don't rely on typical Guitar Center wankery. Equally fist-in-air and tongue-in-cheek, catch these dudes live and they might grace you with a thoroughly righteous "Carol of the Bells."
Inspect Her Gadget
While Gwen Stefani is bastardizing Fiddler on the Roof melodies and bleating on about Egyptian cotton sheets over bastardized G-funk beats of late, her shtick of a decade ago was far more tolerable: sassy, fashionable punk-rock chick. Oakland's all-estrogen quartet Inspect Her Gadget is far more "Just a Girl" than it is Sleater-Kinney in terms of sonic complexity and political ardor, but it has a knack for that tuneful Orange County pop-punk thing, and songs that are both hummable and bounceable, depending on your social inclination. Also, in a handy bit of synergy, Judgement Day violin guru Anton Patzner lent his skills to IHG's debut disc, Look Harder! Watch in awe as a spunky young band transcends its lousy name.
Behold the Polyphonic Spree gone reggae: airy, irie, and spectacularly awry. Still Flyin' packs fifteen or so members of the Bay Area's indie rock elite -- former and current members of the Aislers Set, Red Pony Clock, Half-Handed Cloud, etc. -- onstage for an explosion of full-blown, live-action reggae, featuring multiple female backup singers, robust trombone, the occasional vibraphone, and even a full-time Band Dancer, all subtly orchestrated by frontman Sean Rawls, who bellows tunes like "Fuck the Stress" and staggers about the stage in a chemically assisted stupor. The effect is ridiculously joyful and hopelessly infectious, an island breeze cooling off the stuck-up, ultraserious underground rock mainland. Stop comparing 'em to the Wailers and simply bask in the glow as they stir it up.
The Death of a Party
The Gang of Four reunion tour hit SF last month, rekindling adoration for those long-dormant acidic Brits, with their vicious basslines, jagged guitar, and bitingly satirical lyrics that somehow inspire both merriment and malicious malaise. The Death of a Party has clearly taken notes -- the quartet's debut EP, The Shame of the Sweet (out on KALX/Live 105 guru Disco Shawn's new label, Double Negative) traffics in a tortured dance-punk that has helped the band turn its considerable connections and East Bay warehouse scene dalliances into higher-profile shows with both top-shelf locals (the Lovemakers) and big-shot national stars (a plum late-May gig opening for Bloc Party). TDoaP certainly has style, and the song title "Haircut Homicide" pretty accurately sums it up.
Refamiliarize yourself with this vibrant Oakland duo, dedicated to the thankless task of crafting conscious hip-hop that won't bore you unconscious. Long lauded as one of Bay Area rap's finest live acts, the holy alliance of rapper Zion and producer Amp Live may follow Lyrics Born's lead and transform into Hip-Hop for Folks Who Don't Like Hip-Hop with this year's breezy disc True & Livin', which snags guest appearances from big-shots both regional (Del, Gift of Gab) and national (Talib Kweli, Aesop Rock). Throw in a talented crew of ancillary MCs from D.U.S.T. to Deuce Eclipse, and you have one of the East Bay's most prolific and powerful crews, capable of wooing badass dudes while they steal those badass dudes' girlfriends. Lock 'em up before Zion-I locks it down.
The Catholic Comb
Okay, so our Best of the East Bay readers' poll naming motionless bassist Kelly-Jean Rice as Most Charismatic Performer was probably a little ironic. And hopefully her band never, never, never covers the Talking Heads again (see Down in Front, page 50). But Concord's Catholic Comb still has plenty to recommend it: a moody goth-pop sound favorably (and repeatedly) recalling the Cure, a debut CD (Ghost Stories) that'll give upbeat gems "Sixteen to Twenty-One" some well-deserved attention, and a fan base enthusiastic enough to vote it Catchiest Band -- an honor that was most definitely not ironic.
A Voetsek show is pretty much every overprotective, punk-rock-despising parent's worst nightmare -- a vicious, hyperkinetic whirlwind of flailing bodies and ear-pulverizing squalls that hits harder than the Oakland Raiders defensive line. It's the thrash metal equivalent to the toga party "Shout" scene in Animal House, and it's pretty awesome. The coed outfit has a flair for names, be they stage personnel (Ami Lawless, Athena Dread, Scotty Karate, and Jef Leppard) or records (debut: The Castrator Album), but cleverness and subtlety and nuance aren't the point here: This band's shows are as physical and visceral and punishing a night out as you can possibly imagine.
ArnoCorps' creativity and attention to detail is astonishing. Concept: The six-man "Action-Adventure Hardcore Rock 'n' Roll" outfit speaks and sings entirely in lousy Austrian accents, and performs songs that just happen to share titles and plotlines with the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, it turns out, stole beloved Austrian campfire tales like "Commando" and "Total Recall" and bastardized them in the name of his deplorable film career. Fresh from a rejuvenating stint in Austria (seriously), the boys are back in town for more manic live shows that will feature pulverizing punk rock and between-song jumping-jacks interludes. Hear me now: Unless you're one of those girly-man special interests, these guys have to be seen to be believed.
Culture Spy - February 23, 2:42 PM
What the Fork - February 23, 2:12 PM
Seven Days - February 21, 3:30 PM
Culture Spy - February 19, 1:45 PM
Seven Days - February 18, 5:00 PM