Sunday, October 29, 2017

Tiger Army, The Blasters concert review: Santa Ana, Calif. (Night 1)

photo: Kyusung Gong
Tiger Army kicked off Octoberflame IX, its annual multi-night Orange County run, in blazing fashion on Thursday night.

Singer/guitarist Nick 13 handpicks the opening acts and having the Blasters on the bill gave the proceedings a widespread appeal.

Some parents brought their young kids, dolled-up middle-aged rockabilly fans danced old school style in back and grey-haired seniors were seen milling about the Observatory. Halloween-themed pre-show music, consisting of rockabilly, surf and garage rock tunes from the 1950s and ’60s, was among the most interesting I’ve heard all year.

Each band alluded to Fats Domino’s passing earlier this week with song dedications, but unfortunately, they didn’t do any unique covers from the New Orleans R&B/rock ‘n’ roll legend.

Instead, Tiger Army played its amped-up take on Eddie Cochrane’s “Twenty Flight Rock.” Nick 13 – who is heavily inspired by early ’60s pop and uses Gretsch guitars like his idols Duane Eddy and Billy Zoom of X – said, “We’re not going to get any more guys like (Domino). Today’s music sucks.”

Fittingly, Hank Williams’ “Angel of Death” played overhead as Tiger Army took the stage and started the 18-song set with a fiery instrumental. Female backing vocalist Savitri Labensart added operatic trills to the powerful “Firefall,” Roy Orbison-esque “Happier Times” and lovely standout “Dark and Lonely Night” (all off impressive 2016 album “V … -”).

Elsewhere, “Lunatone” instantly triggered a mosh pit, while country music session musician Bob “Boo” Bernstein added pedal steel to a frenzied “Power of Moonlite” and the chugging Tennessee Three-styled “Train to Eternity” (making its live debut in SoCal). Upright bassist Djorde Stijeponic occasionally played while in unusual positions and Nick 13 subtly interacted with him.

Later, two fist-pumping, chant-worthy psychobilly songs that many Tiger Army fans had been continuously shouting for arrived simultaneously. First was “FTW” (where Nick 13 said he didn’t care what anyone’s political beliefs were and although “times are pretty dire, when you get into despair, find that inner strength”). Then Tiger Army closed the main set with a fierce “Never Die.”

Consummate professionals, the Blasters let the music do the talking during a thoroughly enjoyable 50-minute performance. And it said quite a bit: especially guitarist Keith Wyatt, who practically played the life out of his instrument.

In Santa Ana, the veteran influential roots rock band from Downey, led by singer/guitarist Phil Alvin, opened with “Long White Cadillac” (famously covered by Dwight Yoakam in ’89). The tight four-piece proceeded to tear through many of its best-known tunes from the 1980s, including “Marie Marie,” the title track to debut LP “American Music,” “Trouble Bound,” “Border Radio” and “Dark Night.” The humorous more recent number “Precious Memories (The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised)” was a highlight and quite a hoot with lyrics about a thief.

By the end, drummer Bill Bateman kept the beat with such abandon, he had to take a moment to catch his breath. The guys finished with a Chuck Berry-styled “One Bad Stud” to loud audience cheers.

My review originally appeared at and other SCNG newspapers online.

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