Sunday, January 25, 2015

California X, ROMP, Casual, American Lions Played Paradise Lost, 1/24/15

MA's California X finished their tour at Paradise Lost last night.

I Did the Basement Thing

I had the best time last night.

My complaining over the last week or so has been well-documented here. I've been kind of under the weather -- just enough to be annoying, but not enough to keep me laid up at home. I'd been looking forward to this show at Paradise Lost in New Brunswick since I got the invite a few weeks ago; but, when the day came, I wavered.

"It's all gross and snowy out. I'm gonna see ROMP next week, and I'm gonna see California X two weeks from now in Brooklyn."

I sucked it up, though. Went and grabbed Chris from Speak Into My Good Eye, and we drove up to Hub City together.

Paradise Lost is a dark, low-ceilinged basement somewhere in New Brunswick. Bands perform at one end, and the "green room" area is at the other, behind the furnace. Did I mention that the ceiling is super low?

New Brunswick's American Lions started things off with a wild set of pop punk. The tight quarters caused a few cables to get kicked out at points -- something that would happen throughout the night. It didn't slow anyone down. Things were pretty packed out from the beginning.

Casual, the Flemington band I'd seen open for Screaming Females, were next; and they seemed a lot more comfortable playing to the tightly-packed basement crowd than they did standing up on stage, playing to the early arrivals at The Lanes. I liked what I heard both times and put their self-titled cassette on again when I got home.

Chris and I decided to make our way forward for California X, a band whose latest LP came out on Don Giovanni on my birthday and who Chris and I have been enjoying since their self-titled debut two years ago. We slotted ourselves in at stage left, just next to the stairs. It was way too dark and crowded for any significant picture taking, but I think I managed a few shots of California X that capture the feel of the night.

For the band's part, they played a great set with all of the fuzz and riffage anyone could want; and it was kind of amazing to see them in that environment. I'll have the experience in the back of my mind during their set at The Knitting Factory on February 7th so that I can compare.

ROMP were just back from tour. Singer / keyboardist Madison Klarer had "won" a poll conducted by the band, receiving the most votes as the band member who would wear a bike helmet for the entire set. The helmet butted up against the ceiling joists a few times, but she was a trooper.

The audience turned out in force to welcome ROMP home and screamed along with every song, causing Klarer to stop a few times and declare her amazement. Picture-taking was out as our little area filled up with friends and fans of the band making any kind of movement extremely difficult. Guitarist Lucas Dalakian pogo'd throughout the set, stopping once to take a selfie with the section of the crowd on his side of the performance area.

Again, it will be interesting to see what the vibe is like when ROMP play the Court Tavern next week with Monterey, Semiotics, Deal Casino, and Dollys. The Court Tavern is in their hometown and "basement-y," but there's definitely more room to move around. I feel like the wild expressions of love and adoration may be a little bit less up-close and personal. We'll see.

There were definitely moments last night, as I wheezed and coughed in the tight space, when I wondered about my choice to head out to the show. But, by the time it was all over, I was feeling pretty good. As we left, I heard someone say, "Wow. That was the biggest, wildest show we've had here in a while."

I'm glad I didn't miss it.

Here are some pics of the set by California X. The rest are at Flickr.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Asbury Park Surf Music Festival's Winter Beach Bash at The Wonder Bar, 1/23/15 (PHOTOS)

We got to watch a bullfight at the Winter Beach Bash.

Black Flamingos, Los Pocos Locos, The Brigantines, Plato Zorba

"We're gonna play one more song, then we're gonna have a bullfight," said Steve Clar / Dirty Sanchez of Los Pocos Locos.

Then there was a bullfight.

Such was the atmosphere at last night's Winter Beach Bash at The Wonder Bar. It was a party for those of us who don't necessarily go away for ski weekends but, instead, pine for the hazy lazy days of summer. It was also a showcase of the deep -- and deepening -- well of talent in our local surf rock community.

In addition to Los Pocos Locos, the crowd got sets from Black Flamingos, The Brigantines, and Plato Zorba. Guitarist Robert Butkowski amazed with both Black Flamingos and Plato Zorba, the Flamingos delivering their traditional surf sounds while Plato Zorba gave things a weird and trippy twist. Los Pocos Locos gave us originals, surf-style covers, and the drama of the corrida. The Brigantines got the crowd dancing by the end of their set.

The snow fell throughout the night, and it was a cold and soggy trip home. The party inside The Wonder Bar, though, was a welcome dose of warmth. Check out photo highlights below. The rest of the pictures are in the galleries.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Prehistoric Forest, Pulling Teeth, 2014

Album Review

For those of you who thought I did stuff like have a bunch of reviews ready to go for my impromptu "A NJ Release A Day, All Week" thing, this one should disabuse you of that notion. I haven't even decided if "All Week" means Monday through Friday or Monday through Sunday. I guess we'll see what happens tomorrow.

Anyway, I soldiered through an encroaching illness last night to head over to Wonder Bar to catch the third and final preliminary round of WRAT's Jersey Rock band search. The second band on last night's bill (and the winner, moving onto the finals in February) was Prehistoric Forest. That reminded me that the Toms River five-piece had released their second LP back in November, so I decided to review it today. ...Just as I'd planned all along.

Now, this could be a case of not knowing what I'm talking about; but, no matter what you thought about the hype around the big indie rock bands of the early aughts, I feel like there was still some "rock" to be found in "Indie Rock." All of those albums from Spoon, Arcade Fire, Interpol, and The Strokes (with their unprecedented, and infuriating to some, five-album deal with RCA) were guitar-centric rock records. Things in the world of mainstream indie rock appear to have moved in a more easy-listening, less edgy, more bleepity-bloopity direction since then. Even some of the bands I just mentioned have altered their sound as the times have changed. But lots of the sounds of ten or fifteen years ago are what drew me to "mainstream indie rock" and, to an extent, provided the early inspiration for this blog.

Prehistoric Forest's Pulling Teeth is a throwback to the time when what was popular in indie rock was still rock. From the opening keyboard sounds of "All a Dream," Pulling Teeth feels like something familiar. Like a classic album that's been in your collection for over a decade.

Guitarist Nick Gianatiempo has professed his love for the guitar interplay of Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr. His work with fellow guitarist D.J. Hodgson on tracks like "Into the Night," "Point of No Return," and "Pulling Teeth" makes it clear that he's not shy about revealing his influences. But on tracks like "Sanctuary" and "Midnight," the band trade the staccato guitar hooks for something a little more languid and expansive, showing that they're more than a Strokes tribute band. Album closer "Thunder Loud" is almost proggy in its complexity.

Throughout the record, the kind of sideways vocal delivery of singer Vince Matthews gives things a bit of that rock swagger that's missing from a good deal of current popular indie rock. On stage, Matthews and the rest of the band don't bother with the stiff "stand and play." Instead, bassist Dustin James often plays from his knees as the pair of guitarists and drummer Mike Walsh give it everything they've got, Matthews bouncing around like a pinball.

Make no mistake, the songs on Pulling Teeth are accessible and hook-laden. We're not talking about black metal or hardcore here; but it is refreshing to hear a band making songs that can grab you, that still have an edge, delivered with the sneer and the heart of rock.

Pulling Teeth is out now on Prehistoric Forest's own Byrdhouse Records.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Plato Zorba, Pageant of the Transmundane, 2014

Album Review

I'm not an expert on surf music or jazz. I do love the jangle of single-coil pickups, though; and I am a firm believer in the fact that reverb makes everything better.

Given that, Plato Zorba's Pageant of the Transmundane is amazing ear-candy for me. One of the things that can plague surf music, I think, is a lack of originality. One listen through the Hazlet quartet's debut LP, though, reveals that Plato Zorba are not only technically accomplished musicians, but creative composers and improvisers.

A carnival barker promising "the most haunting ordeal of your lives" provides the intro to opener "In The Shallows." From there, guitarist Robert Butkowski takes you on a trip that's different than anything you've probably experienced before. Whether it's the loungey flourishes and embellishments provided by Ryan Gregg's keyboard work or the little section in "Livorno Sea Creature" where Butkowski trades the glassy, surfy cleans for a little bit of distortion, this isn't the usual surf rock.

Some of the pieces, like "Martini Meltdown" aren't even quite surf rock. Yeah, there's the reverb and the vibrato; but there's something jazzier and darker going on. Titles like "Octopus Boy" and "Alucard" contribute to the bizarre and freakish atmosphere promised at the beginning, the former going out on a kind of a spooky carnival march and the latter having a regal feel appropriate to the "Prince of Vampires."  On single "Santiago," it's almost like Butkowski's guitar is singing to you.

Pageant of the Transmundane isn't a rough-edged surf record filled with covers of revered surf standards. Instead, it's a weird and wonderfully original "haunting ordeal."

I've heard most of these songs performed live, and the experience is mind-blowing. The record does a good job of capturing that feeling. You don't have to rely on the recording, though. Tomorrow night you can catch Plato Zorba when they perform at the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival's Winter Beach Bash at The Wonder Bar along with Black Flamingos, Los Pocos Locos, and The Brigantines.

You can pick up a copy of the CD -- which is out now -- there, I'm sure.