Monday, September 22, 2014

Make the Music Go Bang! Festival review: Santa Ana, Calif.

Dave Alvin
See the shorter version of my review at All photos by Anibal Ortiz, courtesy of The Orange County Register, unless indicated.

A family reunion atmosphere infused the first Make the Music Go Bang! Festival on Saturday. 

Many of the 35 acts on three stages had previously played live or collaborated together in the studio.

Dave Alvin acknowledged that fact while performing with his brother Phil: “I’ve seen just about everyone I’ve ever known backstage today."

The 12-plus hour event – named after an X song – was held at the Observatory and grounds in Santa Ana and drew plenty of people (parents with young kids among them).

With Irvine’s long-running Hootenanny shindig on hiatus, Bang! deftly made up for the absence with a hearty punk, rockabilly, Americana and roots rock music lineup. Wanda Jackson dropped out due to health issues. Fellow rockabilly septuagenarian Ray Campi served as the last minute replacement.

Surprisingly, Hawleywood’s Barbers and Qigong Chinese Massage serviced customers right alongside the retro clothing, art and music booths (a vinyl record vendor arrived from Scotland). A couple food trucks did brisk business. So did the craft beer areas.

“Hope you’re digging the new sound we’ve got here, said singer/bassist John Doe, during X’s rare stripped down headlining set outdoors. It featured vibraphone, bongos, acoustic guitar and sax on selected songs.

Exene of X, The Knitters
While intriguing, the band’s revised format didn’t keep the seated VIP section filled like others did a few hours before. Exene struggled a bit, but her raspier-than-usual voice still meshed adequately with Doe’s amid rollicking opener “The Hungry Wolf” and “White Girl.”

Guitarist Billy Zoom, using a stool, worked his shimmering magic on highlight “Poor Girl” and the gorgeous “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes.” Some sound glitches meant “True Love” had to be stopped and restarted. DJ Bonebrake played the vibes and Zoom honked on a sax for the haunting “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts.”

Before X’s hard-hitting alternative rock radio staple “Los Angeles,” Doe marveled how “this still gets played on KROQ [106.7 FM], even with the bad words. Pretty weird.” Later, a politically-tinged “The New World” found him noting the lyrics “still remain true today like in 1983. It’s the sad state of our government. They can’t do shit."

The Knitters photo by George A. Paul
Earlier in the afternoon, several ladies held parasols to shade themselves. Three-fourths of X appeared on the main outdoor stage in their countrified side project The Knitters.

With guitarist Dave Alvin and a standup bassist, they performed feisty songs from 1985’s Poor Little Critter on the Road and ’05 follow up, Modern Sounds of the Knitters.

A rip-roaring version of X’s “In This House That I Call Home” and a twangier “The New World” (appended with melodic snippet of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Alvin) got the expected wild audience responses. The mournful “Rank Stranger” was a standout. “Walking Cane” saw Exene do a mini dance as Alvin played amazing guitar bursts and the tempo alternated.

Legendary English punk stalwarts Buzzcocks stormed through 18 tunes in 55 minutes. Launching with the clarion call shards of “Boredom,” original singer-guitarist Pete Shelley seemed to take that title to heart.

Halfway through the set, he mentioned that this was the final date of the current tour and said, “we’ll have more fun when it’s over.” I overheard two old punks in the crowd criticize Shelley’s appearance; one thought he looked like actor Richard Dreyfuss.

Buzzcocks’ appropriately ragged sound prompted a slam pit, crowd surfing and even a startling stage dive. The evening set included late 1970s U.K. hits “Promises,” “Love You More,” “What Do I Get” and “Ever Fallen in Love,” not to mention fan favorites like “Fast Cars” and “Autonomy.”

The band briefly dipped into their 2000s catalog for the throttling “Sick City Sometimes,” but surprisingly didn’t include anything from The Way, their first album in eight years due in November. Shelley and co-founding singer-guitarist Steve Diggle alternated lead vocals. The latter musician was totally animated throughout, slashing at his instrument and egging the audience on. 

Avengers, another pioneering punk group from the same era, drew a large crowd (and mini slam pit) to the indoor Observatory stage.

The Bay Area quartet didn’t disappoint with an incendiary performance mostly drawn from the self-titled “Red” LP. 

Penelope Houston recalled opening for X back in the day at California venues like the Whisky and Mabuhay Gardens as X’s Exene looked on from the side of the stage. 

Her defiant delivery and guitarist Greg Ingraham’s razor sharp riffage made “We Are the One,” “Corpus Christi,” “Teenage Rebel” (an ode to individualism) and “Open Your Eyes” fiery as ever.

Bassist-backing vocalist Joel Reader was a real live wire, pogoing around and standing on Luis Illades’ drum riser at times. “Second to None” - with its memorable chant along chorus and Houston’s fake baby crying as well as the explosive “White Nigger” (about dead end jobs) were standouts.

[Side note: For another side of the singer, I’d recommend her 2012 solo album On Market Street. The beguiling collection should be all over AAA radio. It delves into dark baroque folk/rock in fine fashion, with occasional orchestral shadings. Suzanne Vega and Marianne Faithfull are touchstones. Top tracks: “Missouri Lounge,” “You Reel Me In,” “USSA,” “Winter Coats.” Buy the album, Avengers titles and more here:]

Los Lobos brought some solid multiculturalism to the evening, including a tempered “Will the Wolf Survive,” dance-inducing rave up “Don’t Worry Baby” and beer hoisting Spanish sing-along “Volver Volver,” in which fans briefly waved a Mexican flag. They cheered loudly for the accordion-laden “Kiko and the Lavender Moon” and whimsical “I Got Loaded,” plus several songs sung in Spanish.

Dave Alvin was the festival’s shining star, hands down. During dual appearances here with the Knitters and another backed by the Guilty Ones, his electric guitar work consistently dazzled.

Half The Alvins' wonderful set revolved around Common Ground, their current blues tribute to Big Bill Broonzy and first album together in nearly 30 years.

The Alvin Brothers
Phil Alvin’s sweet vocals and harmonica work livened up the set, notably Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway” and “Southern Flood Blues.”

Prior to the humorous slinky blues of “What’s Up With Your Brother” (off Dave’s 2011 solo effort Eleven Eleven, where the two rekindled their musical partnership), Dave reminisced about growing up in Downey and finding a copy of James Brown’s “Please Please Please” on vinyl for cheap at a hometown swap meet.

Then they proceeded to do a soulful cover of it and treated diehard fans to spirited Blasters number “Marie Marie.” Following some band solo spotlights, an instrumental bit of “So Long Baby Goodbye” served as the closer.

Inside the Constellation Room, LA’s Robert Francis & the Night Tide made an indelible mark with rousing Americana sounds from their exceptional new album Heaven. Opener “Ukiah” was appealing; “Love is a Chemical,” completely enthralling a la early Pete Yorn. Another standout moment was Francis’  passionate delivery during “Eighteen,” off his 2012 album Strangers in the First Place. Definitely an underrated gem.

Clad in a patterned dress and sporting glasses with her hair tied up, Victoria Williams looked like a friendly kindergarten teacher on the Observatory stage. Afflicted with MS, she launched the Fullerton-based nonprofit Sweet Relief organization, which provides medical care and more for musicians in need, two decades ago.

She attracted a decent crowd while playing low key folk tunes on guitar and harmonica with her band. Unfortunately, half the audience split (likely to catch The Knitters) prior to best known tune, “Crazy Mary.” 

Junior Brown
Junior Brown possessed the lowest vocal register I heard at the entire festival.

Playing his famous double neck electric/lap steel guitar hybrid instrument on the outdoor stage, amusing neo-traditionalist country and surf songs like “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead” (a top 75 country charter and CMA winner in 1995), “Highway Patrol” and “Broke Down South of Dallas” went over well amid the afternoon sun.

Right as Brown displayed fast-fingered dexterity on “Long Walk Back to San Antone,” one concertgoer said, “now this guy’s the real deal!” Best of all was the more recent “Hang Up and Drive,” about people yacking on cell phones in their cars. 

Back inside on the Observatory stage, Hula Girls played for a bunch of people who just seemed to want to drink without baking in the sun. True to their name, the male band’s pleasant surf rock set featured two hula girls and went down easy.

Meanwhile, Shattered Faith, an old school punk band from Huntington Beach, tore things up in the packed, sweaty Constellation Room. 

The Paladins laid out some smokin’ blues and lively roots rock on the outdoor stage. The San Diego trio, initially together from the mid-‘80s to 2005, reunited in 2011.

Leader Dave Gonzalez tore off some hot guitar licks that often recalled Stevie Ray Vaughn and sumptuous grooves during “Lookin’ for a Girl Like You,” “Lil’ Irene,” “Right Track” (sung by bassist Thomas Yearsley) and “15 Days Under the Hood.” Gonzalez even added a guitar line from Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock.” 

James Intveld photo by George A. Paul
James Intveld, a singer, guitarist, actor who cut his musical teeth in LA’s Eighties cowpunk scene, played to initial arrivals as gates opened about 12:15 p.m.

“Welcome to Breakfast with James Intveld – or hair of the dog. We’ll be serving Bloody Marys later,” he joked. With a reverb-laden sound slightly reminiscent of Chris Isaak, Intveld’s brand of rockabilly and country music fared best on the lonesome “Love Calls” and wistful “This Place Ain’t What it Used to Be.”

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