SHOW REVIEW: Beastfest
Secadora, Six Eye Columbia, The Betty Expedition, The Clarendon Hills @ The Minnow - November 30 (Alameda, CA)
By: Gabriel Ferreira
As a newly anointed IMWT cub reporter I decided to visit the hidden island of Alameda to check out one of the BeastFest shows. This is the second annual festival put on by Misty Gamble (who books the Starry Plough in Berkeley) & Dani Eurynome (who books the Stork Club in Oakland). It was put on at The Minnow, a cantankerous little joint in the industrial part of town with a distinctly salty flavor. One of the bartenders was some sort of Hell's Angel Lothario and the cocktail waitresses were good naturedly demanding that all in my crew drank like sailors. Unfortunately, the soundman had a big-headed fish in a little pond attitude which put the crowd's hearing in jeopardy for most of the night. At one point my left eye involuntarily staggered around in its socket as if it had been slapped. But enough about me.
The Clarendon Hills opened the night with a spirited set of happy punk rock and caffeinated surf tunes. Their enthusiasm is, to say the least, utterly infectious. This is why rock'n'roll was invented and it hardly matters if they hit all the notes. I beg you to go to their site and read the lyrics to 'Educated Hips'. Also, read the review of their 'Sweet and Low Down' EP elsewhere on this site.
Up next was The Betty Expedition, navigators of the time/space continuum rock bombast, gleefully taking the crowd through a set of tunes with life spans longer than the average brown spider. The first tune culminated in a circular riff that held me spellbound and willing to listen to it for the rest of the set. At one point I actually thought that was what they intended to do. They, too, are reviewed elsewhere for their 'Live' disc.
The band I came to see, Six Eye Columbia, fought uphill for a couple of songs, due mainly to the poor handiwork of the soundman, but then began rocking the house like it weren't no thing. They played as a trio this evening, fronted by Josh Pollock, the man who puts the sex in Six Eye. Alternating between determined bug crunching antics and crooning like a dirty Jeff Buckley (one who smokes, perhaps, or one that only the bad girls like), Mr. Pollock put the hurt on the pop song and made it stick without too much schtick. They played a version of The Strangler's 'Toiler on the Sea' that would have wowed the barnacles at the bar had they not been preoccupied with oceans of bourbon. The bass player sang back up without the benefit of a microphone which always warms my heart. You'd think I might review their album 'A Million Six' elsewhere in this issue.
I was only able to stay for half of the closing set by Secadora, a three piece hair dryer consisting of two parts guitar, one part drums that plays emotionally charged songs reminiscent of Cat Power. They seemed a little jittery but I think that may have been the gummy candies. Want to know what I'm talking about? Read my review of Secadora's 'Little Pieces of Paper' at the bottom of this review.
The Clarendon Hills
The 'Sweet and Lowdown' EP
The waves may not break big on the shores of Alameda but the beach party rages when The Clarendon Hills play. Bass, drums, guitar, beer. Ladies and gentlemen, punk rock is always best when it's fresh out of the cradle with a smile on its face and a sledgehammer in its hands. (In this case, that sledgehammer would be bassist Pepito, who apparently is trying to set some sort of falling-into-the-drum-set record). Every song on this seven song EP bursts with hormonally induced teen love angst. This is made all the sweeter by its sincere self-efficacy and occasional smart ass political remark (darts, pool cues, neon lights/ capitalists prospecting for wives). It's completely up front and hasn't been run through Pro Tools until all the oxygen has been sucked out. I fuckin' love it.
The Betty Expedition
While I can't exactly call The Betty Expedition a prog rock band because they don't have a keyboard player who wears a wizard outfit, I can say that these Michigan pilgrims have taken on the Herculean task of creating mind bendingingly long soundscapes by piecing together extended jam sessions. You might think this is easy. Just riff blissfully on and hope the joints keep coming. The difference here is TBE's ability to recreate all those little pieces of inspiration usually discovered in the garage but impossible to remember when it counts.
A quick note; the spellbinder I mentioned in a related show review is titled 'The Adventures of Tumbleweed', my favorite.
While I bemoan the paucity of vocals, I can tell from listening to these live tracks (culled from performances at KALX and The Stork Club and ranging in quality from 'quite good' to 'hey, turn that fuckin' guitar down, it's stepping on the groove!') that the forthcoming record is something to look forward to. Send a picture of your sky blue Volvo to the boys at the above website. They'll appreciate it.
Six Eye Columbia
A Million Six
Tom Waits once said that music was best on a bad speaker from a block away. Mr. Waits, your package has arrived. Blaring from the AM radio of a '78 Toyota (let's say a Corolla), 'A Million Six' rattles with charisma from the start. It has a very unconventional song sequence, a discourse on which I will spare you. I will say that it's as if the disc has sides. Remember sides?
If one is to come away with anything on this disc it is that Mr. Pollock, the songwriting mechanic behind SEC, has had his heart physically removed from his chest and dropkicked into a blender. The bitter 'Don't Ask' and its twin 'You'll Say Anything' are true rock'n'roll heartbreakers.
The two versions of 'Uranium Doll' prove that some of the best female driven Devo lyrics were not written by Devo. 'Horsepill', 'Smitten', 'Tail Wagging a Dog'. All exhibit excellent craftmanship and a great sense of humor. But the gem on this album by far, regardless of what the former Mrs. Ayers might say, is 'Queen of Point A', a slow wrenching tale of love undone, never made and crying like the guitar at the end. Brilliant and beautiful.
Honorable mention to 'Joni Mitchell Songs' for all the similes and extra credit goes to Mr. Pollock for grafting two Social Unrest verses onto a pop song with King Crimson flowers and a nifty new wave outro.
Little Pieces of Paper (Keiki Records)
'Little Pieces of Paper' is a clean little record whose repeated theme of hushed vocals and simple baritone guitar picking is compelling after repeated listening. Secadora is a band in a truer sense of the word in that none of the players attempt to take the spotlight but rather work with each other to create subtle songs that occasionally explode with dynamic interplay.
Christian Serra's drumming underlines the tension on 'Little Pieces of Paper' with a clipped style, seeming to corral the two guitars. Daniel Lowrie finds a lot of interesting ethereal guitar noodles that would be at home in Sonic Youth or maybe at Dischord Records. The drone on 'Home' is especially satisfying. The most unique element, though, is Adrienne Robillard's pulsing vocals (the timbre of which is amazingly reminiscent of Velocity Girl's Sarah Shannon) which seem to be a hidden ghost telling stories. At first I found the style irritating but after letting the disc spin a few more times I began to appreciate the voice as instrument even when the lyric was compromised. Favorite cuts are 'One Minute Automobile' and 'Gelato', the livelier numbers.
Delicate and sometimes shimmering, Secadora seems like a band still exploring their potential. I am keen to hear more...