Monday, October 31, 2016

Tiger Army concert review: Santa Ana, Calif.

photo: Matt Masin/OC Register
“We played this at the Galaxy 15 years ago,” recalled Nick 13, alluding to the packed Observatory’s longtime former identity.

Then the singer/guitarist led Tiger Army through defiant punk song “F.T.W.,” off 2001 album “II: Power of Moonlite.” Fans vigorously chanted along to the chorus and started a slam pit near the stage.

The same scenario would repeat throughout the evening – especially when the LA-based psychobilly band delved into early material from the ’99 self-titled debut (“Moonlite Dreams,” “Devil Girl,” intense, fist-pumping main set closer “Never Die”).

Octoberflame VIII, a Tiger Army tradition in Orange County that often draws hardcore followers from around the country, marks the trio’s only California shows on the current tour (a show at The Fonda Theatre in Hollywood took place in July). While the guys basically stuck to their average set list on Night 1, Nick 13 has promised some different songs every night, so people who attend every night shouldn’t be disappointed.

The band’s latest album “V…-” (Roman numeral and Morse code for the number five, since it’s the fifth full-length title in the band's catalog), arrived after nearly a decade-long absence, during which Nick 13 put out an alt-country-leaning solo album. The expansive sounding new material, partially influenced by early 1960s rock ‘n’ roll and ‘70s New York City punk, stands among Tiger Army’s best.

In Santa Ana, a piledriving “Firefall” – the first of four new tunes (five if you count the brief prelude intro) – featured operatic trills from Savitri Labensart. She also reprised her studio role on excellent, sway-worthy “Dark and Lonely Night” and the dramatic, elegant buildup of first encore, “In the Morning Light.”

Energetic upright bassist Djordje Stijepovic constantly moved his heavy instrument around the stage, stood face to face with Nick 13 and even played it while on the floor. The frontman was in fine vocal form, gracious toward fans and effortlessly ripped through one reverb-drenched Gretsch guitar lick after another (using several models).

Standouts among the 70-minute concert included an ominous “Ghostfire,” the galloping “I Am the Moth,” “Rose of the Devil’s Garden” (which went down a storm) and weepy instrumental encore cover of “Sleepwalk.” The latter, a 1959 chart-topper for Santo & Johnny, proved to be a perfect fit. The same held true for many of Tiger Army’s dark-hued tunes – with lyrics about the moon, nighttime and devil – right before Halloween.

My review originally ran at

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