I am supposed to be preparing for my burning man trip but… LIVE LOCAL MUSIC! Never a bad night with live music, so for $25 on Wednesday I got 3 for 1 on stellar surf rock.
Is there any music I don’t like? Probably not. But more importantly I just like taking risks. So when I see an ad for a show cross my path, my first thought is almost always something along the lines of, “Well that looks awesome”. I got tagged in a post two days before Wednesday’s surf rock pupu platter at The Great Northern. I knew about The Suffragettes, Canada’s four piece surf-go-go-exotica empresses. And I was peaked to go but I was also supposed to begin to do a hundred other things. And so I put a mental post-it in my head and moved on.
Wednesday rolled around and I was still a million things behind but I looked up the event on The Great Northern’s website and there was a very colorful poster listing two other band names. Bands I was not hip to, Frankie and the Pool Boys and The Young Barons. So for my $25 I get even more music! But again being busy and broke I was not yet sold. I needed an angel or more likely an excuse to take the time and money… And immediately my instincts said, well treat this like a job and go and write a review.
Maybe one of the opening acts is local. Very often small gigs at venues like The Great Northern or Bottom Of The Hill or the Ivy Room will enlist local acts to fill out a bill. And sure enough The Young Barons are from Pacifica. Upon learning that I decided on my commitment to local community product I had to go now so I could write press later. Just so the band had SOMETHING on the books. Later I learned Frankie and the Pools Boys are out of SF. So there was a heavy dose of bay area surf sonics on Wednesday.
Side note: I was supposed to be the drummer in a band with my brothers. My sense of rhythm and timing is just made for that position. So I am very much drawn to drummers and the backbeats of music in general whatever the genre or era. But in surf music the drumming is the core of the whole genre. It is the wave on which the other musicians ride and show off.
Without solid drumming surf music is messy at best and a natural disaster at worst. You could remove everything but the drums and you’d still know in some sense it is surf music and you are supposed to move to it. I bring this up because at the show many people were trying their best to dance but couldn’t figure out the language of the reverb. A few people even asked how I dance to this music and I said, “Ignore the guitars. Let the drummer tell you which way to go-go and rip it up from there.”
And if it were not for the fact the show was a triple bill I am almost certain the opening act, The Young Barons would have literally ripped-up the stage and destroyed guitars like it was a bay area punk show circa 1986 at Gilman. They certainly knew they were the openers and made sure NOBODY would forget them after the next two acts had their say. And being an act with members not even old enough to drink at the very venue they played meant they didn’t have a whole huge back catalog to draw from.
So along with laying out some ono (Hawaiian slang for delicious) originals much of the set was spent ripping to shreds surf staples like Misirlou and Wipeout at the seams. Being local acts their sound has that knowing edge one gets from living in this micro climate region. Weather with lots of fog and freezing water (as opposed to southern CA), especially on the peninsula and so if you’re gonna surf in these parts it takes extra attitude to stick it to the climate and that comes through in the way they play. They also sound and play like they haven’t learned restraint yet and I hope they never do.
We need more explosive guitars backed by even more explosive drums pounded at a pace that could knock San Andreas Fault line off its hinges. Their upcoming debut album Hella California is coming and you can get it here The Young Barons. Take your teens to see them, so they can get a taste of bay area fast and furious and the possibilities therein.
Frankie and the Pools Boys were the middle act and coming on the heels of the opening tsunami brought more band members and a keyboard. Plus a wider variety of surf styles from fever pitch volcanoes to songs that were almost slow slinky blues for midnight alleys. They also had a more exacting style of play with more restraint. You could hear that they have been around a bit longer. But that in no way means they did wreck a path themselves.
They just used machetes as opposed to dynamite to trail through the jungle. They too threw in a few covers most notably “Telstar” by the Tornadoes. But it was mostly originals performed at summer temperatures that had me spinning and bouncing fast (those who know me, know). The addition of a keyboard allowed for some variety in the grease present at this musical hukilau. Sometimes feeling like one was surfing the cosmic waves of Jupiter or Saturn, waving at Les Baxter from a distance.
My advice here, as always, is just let the music tell you want to do. Don’t even try to maintain some respectability in your posture or movements. Yes you might look goofy but goofy is always better than stuffy and the bands love it. You can pick up their 1st wave surf sound here Frankie and the Pool Boys But really go see them live and get the merch at the show because, they are not selling that sweet little 45 I scored on-line.
The Suffragettes made the rounds on social media during the pandemic shut down crossing my path with their cover of Britney Spears, “Toxic”. Now, I am a total sucker for all girl bands. Even in this modern era they seem to be hard to come by, especially in niche genres. But with acts like The Linda Lindas and others the fiery amp of tradition set by the likes of Goldie and the Gingerbreads, Fanny, The Runaways and others blazes forward.
But – Do I merely like a group because it is all women or because I like the music? It could be both, but it is always music first. I just happen to stan female bands on principle because of the music history/industry relegating them to novelty (still in many cases). Unfortunately, for the foursome they had the task of headlining a bill where both opening acts had home field advantage and crushed it. And there did seem to be some equipment issues (guitarist Nicole Damoff commented CA does not like their instruments) and trouble finding their groove in the first few songs. But by the time they launched a reverb soaked cover of Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass,” they found the center of the pipeline and rode it all the way back to shore. They had a few other left field covers, The Youngbloods, “For Your Love” and Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” in a medley form. But it is the originals like, “Salty Sister”, “Couch Surfing”, and “Party Line ” where they really let it rip, unconstrained by trying to fit classic songs into the surf format. It would be far too easy and cheap to talk about the beehives and throwback matching go-go clothes but lead guitarist Shermy Freeman is a real deal 1960s culture vulture. Her Instagram is loaded with atomic age décor and clothing designs dedicated to Mama Cass. She also knew who Kathy Marshall was when the question of surf music queen entered a post show conversation. So this is not kitsch or a put on this is love. Personally I swooned for redhead Sarah Butler who played bass like she was a member of James Brown’s backing band just standing solid and focused keeping everything tight and in time.
And without that who knows what hurricane would have arisen because Anna Liebel on drums was… well a hurricane. And the only one without the beehive, which really would never have stayed in place the way she was slamming those skins like it was abalone about to go on the grill. Pick up their debut Roller Fink right here and catch them making the round on tour right now.
On a related note The Young Barons wore punk jackets with patches and Frankie and Pool Boys were done up in casual tiki wear both matching the vibe of their respective bands.
This morning I made a mental note to myself to make sure that the Retro Reverb Hour on local radio station KFJC 98.7 has our local reverb rebels on their radar. They need to include them on the iconic Battle of The Surf Band Comps the station puts out. Local bands and local radio are great leads into my final request to you all.
Look, the prices of most concerts are getting out of hand (to the point it can only be called greed). We the people are priced out of our own music, the music and musicians we helped make global stars. I’m sure we are all aware of this and I am sure many of us have seen the John Oliver piece on ticket pricing from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
You have also probably heard the recent news around dynamic pricing and statements about it from the Bruce Spingsteen camp. It sucks. It really does. Especially, if these are acts that defined your youth or changed your life and it might be their last go round. But maybe it is time to say our goodbyes. I got to see a-ha, I saw Blondie, and I splurged on Björk. They were fun shows and now part of my history and DNA.
But on Wednesday I saw three acts for $25 tear up The Great Northern. No Ticketdisater fees, no scalping, no hassle of bag checks, long lines, overpriced beer, and other headaches. To say nothing of the absence of obnoxious corporate anything. I saw three acts clearly in it for the love of music. They had no roadies, no PR people or security, they had to haul their own equipment around and mostly set up their own stages.
So maybe it is time, when it comes to live music, we spend our money not on arenas and legacy acts that don’t need what little money we have left in our paychecks. But to drop those dollars on local venues and local acts where it has more value and goes farther for more people. Let’s make these musicians in trenches the acts that become the new soundtrack for our lives going forward. Where the spectacle is not backup dancers, flames, or giant snakes or skeletons but music itself served raw and fresh like sashimi.