Top Down and the Radio On 

Ten local bands to rock your sweaty, sticky, sometimes-foggy East Bay summer.

It's summertime ... and the livin' is sleazy. Yep, it's that time of year when your sweaty butt sticks to the Smokehouse benches, your roommate steals your fan and then breaks it, and that certain essence de gutter punk wafts up from Telegraph Avenue. What better opportunity to cram yourself into a hot, sweaty club with lukewarm beer and overpriced drinks? And if you're going to get sticky and stinky, why not do it to a great soundtrack? Here are ten East Bay bands to help you make it through August.

Blast Rocks!!!

Remember that time you set your robot's control dial to "Go Berserk"? Well, those memories will come flooding back when you witness this trio of insanity. Lyrics about robots, barbecues, and zombies, all dippy enough to rival Biz Markie, but with that same guileless charm. "Rock and Roll! Weekend! Rock and Roll! Weekend!" they hoot, while drummer Heather hits jars, trash cans, and the vinyl records she uses for cymbals. Sandra plays the ol' Casio around her neck, and Nick is on guitar. The band goes nuts; the music is erratic, catchy, and very engaging freak-pop. Plus they're part of SPAM, the East Bay punk-rock collective.


When you see this band live, with most of the members onstage behind laptops feeding off each other's samples in an impromptu free-for-all, it may dawn on you that this is an electronic version of that dreaded genre: the jam band. However, the only thing "jam" about these guys is that they are on Hip-Hop Slam, Billy Jam's Oakland label. Nope, there ain't no Deadhead hippie folks at these shows. CatFive hangs with that glorious handful of DJs that loves to find obscure, odd, funny, and just plain campy samples suitable for mixing with bouncy breaks and innards-shaking funk. Balanceman delivers the beats, with Darkat at the keyboards and turntables, Dr. Oliver on samples, and Tweak-Tech as analog and digital overlord. Check out their latest CD Katphonics, and see for show info.

Erase Errata

Here's one of the few East Bay bands that's part of the neo-no-wave thing happening 'round here, joining groups like Numbers, C:WAR (Crack: We Are Rock), and the Coachwhips that are trying to do something new and interesting. Erase Errata has taken off considerably, to say the least, after forming in '99 with a barrage of "instant compositions" performed on the spot at the group's practice space. Its members continue to embrace the improv method, but have managed to actually write down some songs and record a full-length record for the Troubleman Unlimited label in addition to various seven-inches and splits. The sound is lo-fi and erratic, with spasmodic vocals and fantastic female harmonies that are wonderfully odd -- like the opera debut of Frankenstein's bride, complete with overdubs. People compare Errata to the Northwest's fitful yet soulful grrrl group LiLiPut, but its sound is even more offbeat.

Gravy Train

Oh my God. What can be said about a band that claims it formed to exalt the cool Garys of the world? Gary Glitter, Gary Coleman, the list goes on. Composed of three ho's and a homo, and collectively known as Chunx, Hunx, Funx, and Drunx, this 1980s-era, honkified hip-hop outfit has been together about a year and is touring the US this summer. Its full-length CD, The Menz, is full of relatively simple ditties about bein' gay, getting some, getting some more, and then, of course, getting yet some more. Gravy Train's live show transcends the dulcet Casio-tones of the CD, with bandmembers clad in hot pants and tube tops humping on one another. It's an unexpurgated free-for-all in the synth-pop vein of Le Tigre but with the cutesy old school charms of L'Trimm. Grab it!

Greenlight the Bombers

This foursome has been playing its post-hard-core balls off in and around the East Bay, but the local press has yet to notice. The music is hard, tight, and powerful -- influenced by Helmet in vocals and rhythm, with rolling basslines and stops and starts that nod to a jazzier Jesus Lizard. Though not exactly innovative, it's a refreshing alternative to the other brands of punk that have sprung from the East Bay -- the power-pop glee of Green Day or flat-out dirty punk rock of the Burnt Ramen scene. See for show info.

High on Fire

After abandoning ship at a sinking Man's Ruin Records last year, High on Fire is now signed with Relapse -- possibly the best place for this syrupy dark metal band to land. The resulting album, Surrounded by Thieves, takes the group as far away from its Sleep roots as possible while still maintaining frontman Matt Pike's creepy Lemmy-inspired vocals and a general feeling of impending doom. And hey, what better a way to spend your summer than going deaf? The band's recent show at the Justice League put eardrums on the endangered species list.


We are reticent to give Kid606 more press -- making the cover of Brit magazine The Wire surely was more than enough for this cat. But the ridiculous sound-bombing this Oakland boy's been doing onstage lately is worth a bit more ink. He takes all the brutality of hardcore punk and translates it into laptop mixing -- solid walls of sound and bass with cleverly inserted samples of '80s stuff, Black Sabbath, and Outkast. If you think electronic music is meant only for headphones, you need to check out his show. Some older fans don't seem to dig the Kid's latest release, The Action-Packed Mentalist Brings You the Fucking Jams, but for those of us who drowned in the obtuseness of his other output, the title of his latest is the gospel truth.

The Pre-Teens

Arriving here from Santa Cruz via Los Angeles, this trio cut itself a deal with El Cerrito's 11345 Records, and has released the resulting CD, Sunday Morning Services, as well as an LP, Why Don't You Marry It?, on Berkeley's Cheetah's Records. The Pre-Teens fuse a few queer-friendly songs and others about general angst into all-around quirky blend of post-punk that gets compared to Vomit Launch and Discount. Singer Cristina Espinosa delivers vulnerable yet determined vocals, as though she were a Girl Scout who's grown up and never wanted to sell those damn cookies anyway. There are still some areas where the young band seems to be trying too hard, with unsure vocals and not-quite-tight instrumentation -- but upon several listens you're likely to conclude that it's deliberately disjointed. Throw in the songs about the after-effects of having absentee parents, and you have a complete recipe for twentysomething ennui.


This bass-heavy electronic three-piece pummels your eardrums with two MPC-2000XL samplers, as famed East Bay DJ Joe Quixx rounds everything out in the background. The bandmembers believe that most of the funk has been removed from dance music, but they still like the power electronics can bring to it. The result is a show -- sometimes complete with props and theatrics -- that attempts to conjure up the ghost of Egyptian Lover and Afrika Bambaataa. "We're trying to bring booty-shaking back to the scene," bandmember Jason Stinette told us in February. "We do what feels right to us."


A lot of bands have a shtick but no music to back it up. But the Phenomenauts, who blend rockabilly with songs about outer space, robots, and why "Earth Is Best" could stand alone as a fast, jump-boogie band that tears down every chicken shack and liquor still from here to Modesto. Luckily for us, they do have a shtick, and that is to dress up like Battlestar Galactica wannabes, light their drum kit on fire, send reams of toilet paper cascading over the crowd, set off explosions, and play a Theremin helmet worn by the guitarist. The audience participation portion is the rule at their live shows, with fans getting the honor of being called "cadets." They play out like the bejesus, so check for show dates and other wacky details.


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