Show Review: The Bronx at the Beauty Bar

I arrived at the BB around 8:45 PM and found the place already somewhat full. Ran into some friends I hadn’t seen in a while: Kipper, who was DJing, Justin from Silverbird/Counterfit, and Tony from Fever Sleeves. Justin seems to be doing well and is excited about getting Silverbird out on the road. I’m excited for him, too.

By 9:15, the bar area was completely full, a fact that may or may not have had something to do with Nathan Black’s assertions that cover and booze was free before 10 PM. It was, sort of: the booze was being given away along with a promotion by Camel cigarettes. If you smoke, this doesn’t present an ethical quandary. For some of us, telling us we get free booze for signing up on Camel’s mailing list is like asking us to join NAMBLA for a $10 rebate on our next gas fillup.

Tonight we were all victims of the “amazing added band” trick. The band in question is Alarma, from Los Angeles. Tony from Fever Sleeves correctly pointed out that their drummer looks an awful lot like Bill Lumbergh from Office Space. The other dudes look, well, like dudes in a band from LA that write songs about wanting to fuck women when they’re high. That’s the main lyric from their second song: “I wanna fuck you when your high.” Oh yeah, I think they also said, “I’m gonna feed you drugs,” but that part might not be a direct quote.

Creepy lyrics aside, this band’s chief concern should be getting to the point a little more quickly. It took until their fourth song for them to stumble upon a decent groove and riff. Thankfully, from that point forward the band loosened the groove and came off as aping early Zeppelin instead of aimlessly meandering through soulless coke rock (cat dirt called it out; this hipster embrace of 80s Sunset Strip culture is pretty humorous, though not without its own logic–vapid is as vapid does). Maybe that’s the vibe they’re going for. If so, good for them. They nailed it. As with most Beauty Bar crowds who aren’t watching exactly what they came to see, they welcomed the band with stunned indifference.

The Bronx was another story. As I’ve said before, the Bronx are a quintessential Casbah band and tonight’s crowd proved it. Let’s just say that the Beauty Bar has never exprienced quite so high a concentration of large dudes with black t-shirts who don’t give a rat’s ass about Marc Jacobs before. The Bronx are known for being confrontational and singer Matt Caughthran doesn’t seem happy until he’s got the crowd worked into a real frenzy, which took approximately two seconds from when they hit the stage. “It’s been a while since we’ve played, especially here in the United States,” he said. A moment later, the band charged into “Heart Attack American,” and the burly crowd launched as if spring-loaded toward him. Mid-song he leaned down and grabbed me by the throat/collar, using me for ballast as he leaned out over the churning mass in front of him. Troy Johnson was in there for a while–I lost track of him pretty quickly, however. I’m pretty sure he didn’t whip out his spin kicks or floor punches, but you never know.

Pic courtesy of Rosey at sdialedin.com

I turned to the security guard who was stationed at the back of the pit and asked if anyone had warned them how it would be on a night like this. “No, but I’m prepared for anything,” was his reply. Though I think he firmly believes that, it occurred to me at the moment that he was basically out there on an island. On a night like that the Casbah will have four or five extra security people on hand just in case things get too wild. I get the impression that one of the facets of being a younger venue is learning that kind of thing as you go, a process that will no doubt be slowed somewhat by the fact that different promoters are at the helm almost every night. Still, Mr. Security Guard gets big points for simply, but firmly, telling a crowd surfer to stop without physically engaging him or acting like a dick. Good on you, should you stumble across this.

The Bronx are not without good humor, however. About four songs in, Caughthran stopped to thank the event’s sponsor. Affecting a fake, half-country accent, he said, “I’d like to thank all the people at Camel for all the sort-of free booze and the lots of free cigarettes–but mostly cigarettes,” he deadpanned, getting lots of good natured laughs from the crowd. Pretty quickly the scrum was back on, as the band went into “Your Shitty Future.”

Though their set was fun and energetic, it did sound like they were working off–if not rust–then a coat of dust. They weren’t particularly loose–these guys never are–but I’ve seen them play tighter. Then again, given the active crowd, semi-free booze and backyard house party atmosphere, tightness really wasn’t the order of the day. Ken Horne (formerly of the Dragons) is on guitar, too, though most of the time I couldn’t really get righted enough to tell whether he was a necessary addition to Jobi Ford. There will be pics added to this post later (damn that cable!), so check back to see if your lovely face made it.

PS: I didn’t stick around for Gods Girls.

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More Bronx @ Beauty Bar info…

From Nathan Black, the show’s promoter:
EARLY SHOW DOORS AT 8PM NO COVER TILL 10PM-$7 AFTER 10PM  BRONX GO ON AT 10PM

There you have it. If you want to see the Bronx, you should get there early.

Show Review: Fifty on their Heels, the Vultures @ the Beauty Bar

cat dirt throws a pretty mean party, even if a no-show door person meant that he had to do so while collecting cover and manning the prodigious guest list. The only part of his hospitality of which I didn’t partake was the cupcakes, though they looked delicious. Pics from the event will be forthcoming–damn that enigmatic USB cable.

I had a chance to speak with Dan Wise, bassist of the Vultures and guitarist of Kill Me Tomorrow, before the show. I had not seen him in a dog’s age and was glad to be able to catch up. He’s taking upright bass lessons and seems to be enjoying the hell out of it. He made an interesting remark to the effect that he wanted to expand the repertoire of what he could do musically so as to be able to do it throughout his life. “I don’t want to be an aging rocker,” I believe, was the direct quote. I can second that. Dan’s work with Kill Me Tomorrow is excellent, reflecting a sincere desire to break up the narrow approach of dance punk by encorporating all sorts of musical odds and ends, and he’s still actively trying to grow and get better.

Also, I’ll give credit where credit is due. At least on this night, the bar staff was unfailingly polite and helpful. I made mention of a lousy experience there in another one of my posts, so I figure it’s only fair to recognize good work.

This was my first experience with the Vultures, or Chuck Rowell and the Vultures (which are they going by these days?). While I was never a big fan of the Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower (though I did give Love in the Fascist Brothel a positive review), I’m less enamoured of the member’s current projects, both of which strike me as genre exercises. The Plot’s approach was famously all over the map; both the Prayers and the Vultures seem to be channeling very specific influences, though one does sunny Beach Boys-esque pop and the other Iggy and the Stooges/New York Dolls glam punk. Chuck’s stage presence is still an exercise in visible (if good natured) disdain for the audience, but his current vocal approach is straight-up Johnny Rotten. Perhaps I caught them on an off night.

Fifty on their Heels spent the entire Vultures set up front and listening intently. However you choose to look at it, the courtesy/honor/gesture wasn’t returned. The Vultures spent most of Fifty’s set stationed at the bar, which was too bad. They missed a pretty energetic offering from Junior, Justin and Nicky. It would have been nice, too, if the crowd had caught some of their energy; I was reminded of the Dismemberment Plan’s hilarious “Doing the Stand Still.” C’mon, it’s Saturday night, it’s a dance punk band and you have the disposable income to already be drinking the night away–can’t you loosen up and shake a leg?  My impression, and I may be incorrect, is that the Beauty Bar’s attracts a dance crowd that is more or less indifferent to a lot of the live music that goes on there. Individual shows, such as Battles or the upcoming appearance by the Bronx, may buck this trend, but it’s probably safe to say that the DJs do more business for the bar than the bands.

Tonight: Fifty on their Heels, the Vultures @ Beauty Bar

Yeah, I’m headed to see Fifty on their Heels at the Beauty Bar tonight. My feature on them just came out in MusicMatters, and I think they are great dudes. It’s cat dirt‘s wife’s birthday (I believe her blogger handle is CDW–which reminds me: I have a distant uncle who’s CB handle is “Texas T-Bone.” True story).

My favorite part of the interview was when Junior dismissed with the typical platitudes about scene support and acknowledged what has to be the biggest open secret in San Diego: this music scene doesn’t support each other for shit:

When asked to identify the best and worst aspects of the San Diego scene, the order in which they do is telling.  “The worst thing I’ve found is that I always hear talk about the community, and how bands look out for each other…I’ve never really felt that. I’ve felt cold shoulders, weird vibes sometimes. But when you find those bands that you really get along with, that’s the best thing, because you really have each other’s back. Of course it’s competitive–“

“Which is alright,” Nicky interjects.  “There’s a large concentration of good bands that may not be the type of music I’m in to, but there are quite a few really good bands playing, and lots of opportunity.”

Junior concedes. “For me, the Muslims are great. The Prayers EP was very good–I love that CD.”

Maybe there’s something I’m missing, but the majority of bands around here would (and have) stab(bed) you/me in the back for twenty dollars. I’m finding the bloggers I’ve basically just met to be more friendly and genuinely interested in each other’s work than the majority of bands my various projects have played with. The bloggers seem to get that more people writing means more people reading–the rising tide raises all ships, and it makes our scene, town and lives more interesting places to be.

Not to harp on the issue, but when I start blogging about the experience at Denverfest, you’ll see what I mean when I say that other scenes’ musicians definitely understand community much better than we do here. Click here to read what Reno band Think in French, first timers in Denver, had to say about the place. Given that no one is really making money off this stuff, shouldn’t comaraderie be a pretty central concern for San Diego musicians?

Show Preview: The Bronx @ the Beauty Bar, July 11

Holy hell, I don’t know that the Beauty Bar has the sound equipment to handle this one. The Bronx are coming back to San Diego for a show with Gods Girls (don’t know anything about them yet–maybe softcore porn?) on July 11. I can’t say that I think the Beauty Bar is a natural fit for the Bronx–they are a quintessential Casbah band in sound and fury–but hey, I can always use an excuse to eat at Red Sea in City Heights.

I was a little unnerved to find that the Bronx were managed by Crush, the same people behind mall punk lobotomists Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, The Academy Is…, etc. The relationship, thankfully, stops there. The Bronx are a pretty viscious live band, practically pinning audiences to the back wall with an earsplitting mix of hardcore, punk rock and hard rock. I’ve seen them a couple times before (once at the Casbah, once at SOMA) and both occasions were memorable.

I interviewed the band a year ago for the now-defunct musicedge.com, a website that committed the cardinal sin of assuming kids weren’t too dumb to be interested in thoughtful articles about a diverse palette of bands. Of course, they are, or at least the people at NAMM think they are. The site was edited and operated by Shane R., who now writes acoatofredpaintinhell.com. Anyway, I’ve decided to repost some parts of the article below. I’m sure you slept the first time: don’t sleep this time!

BEGIN!!

On the brink of its first major label release and enjoying a much higher profile than ever before, The Bronx doesn’t appear to be making many musical concessions to court mass appeal. Though hooks abound, The Bronx’s sound is unrelenting and fierce. If you can imagine Black Flag playing Stonesy riffs at a million or so miles per hour, you’re getting close. Couple that with Matt Caughthran’s scathing growl, and you have a sound that channels heaping energy through taught drums and bass and growling guitars. The sound stands in contrast to the laid back, joking demeanor on display backstage, where Caughthran and guitarist Jobi Ford sit down with the author to discuss their move to a major label, the creative process of songwriting and a bizarre case of mistaken guitar identity.

As is usually the case, eyebrows were raised when The Bronx decided to sign with a major label. But for them, the experience has been positive. Caughthran and Ford attribute that to the band’s very well-defined sense of who it is and how it operates—self-sufficient and hands on in its approach to music and art. “We, as a band, do a very specific thing,” Ford says. “ Everything is pretty thought out and figured out. It’s not like we’re doing anything out of the ordinary; we just know what we want in relation to what’s available. We do all our own Web site stuff, all the treatments [scripts] for our videos. On this tour James [Tweedy, the band’s bassist] is managing … we do all our own art. That’s how we are as people.”

The move to Island afforded the band members the opportunity to work with producer Michael Beinhorn; an experience that was a world away from their previous recording experiences. “Matt and I have been in bands for 10 years,” Ford says, “and the experiences we’ve had is scraping together $500 and finding a friend that has a studio. For the new album we had a month of pre-production and two months of recording. It was a lot like the first time, except that instead of hitting things right off the bat, we had to play each of the songs about 75 times!” All of the songs were tracked live, so that “we either all got it or—or didn’t!” Ford chuckles.

Knowing the massive increase in studio time had a demonstrable impact on the songwriting process. “It definitely affected the writing process in a very good way. Once we got into the studio, each of us realized in our own, painful way how unprepared we were,” Caughthran says. “We wrote so many songs in that studio [a converted methadone clinic on the Venice Beach boardwalk], and once we got the first two going it was a real outlet of creativity—everyone was going on all cylinders. That had never really happened to us before.”

The process wasn’t all Yahtzee and shuffleboard, however. Producer Beinhorn is known for being one of the most demanding around, and The Bronx definitely felt the effects of his laser-like focus and drive. “He goes through every song with a fine tooth comb, to the point where he would tell to add one more kick drum hit here, or another cymbal hit there,” Ford says. “He’s just an extremely methodical person with no concept of time. Some days we’d work for an hour, and some days we’d work for 12.”

Operating on such a schedule, The Bronx members were very glad to be within the strange and friendly confines of their hometown Los Angeles. “I love California, and Los Angeles is definitely the hub of that,” Caughthran says with obvious affection. “Everything is at your feet: You get the mountains and the ocean and the sun, the weirdness of Hollywood and the calmness of being outside of Hollywood.”

Adds Ford: “It’s a place where you can disappear if you want to disappear, or get a pack of gum next to Tom Cruise … it’s just a very interesting place to live.”

The Bronx is a band in love with its city. And why not? By all accounts, Los Angeles has been good to band members: recording and playing with Sunset Strip royalty like Clarke, having their first shows and recordings gushed over by the infamous tastemakers at buddyhead.com—even being cast as one of their favorite bands, Black Flag, in ex-Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear’s movie about his seminal punk band the Germs.

“That was a total blast,” Caughthran says, reliving the moment. “We did the scene [playing the Black Flag song ‘Police Story’] twice, maybe three times—” at which point Ford jumps in with pride, “the fake Germs had to do their scene about eight times. Then we got up there and the crew was like, ‘Whoa, you guys can play.’ No one even knew we were a band!”

That wouldn’t be the only case of mistaken identity that day. “I got accused of stealing my own guitar,” Ford offers. “The prop guys made me a Dan Armstrong specially for the shoot [a clear-bodied electric guitar made of Lucite], and I actually play a Dan Armstrong just like the one Greg Ginn used to play in Black Flag. So I get up on stage with my own guitar, and a stagehand says, ‘This guy is trying to steal our guitar!’ and gets on the walkie talkie and is like, ‘Larry, uh we got a situation here…’ Finally the prop guy came down and he was the maddest of all. He said to me, ‘Dude, do you know how long it took me to find the parts to make that thing?’”

Playing your musical heroes in a motion picture is the kind of experience that many bands would kill to have. Indeed, the whole trajectory of The Bronx as a band thus far (signed after two shows, being the darlings of L.A.’s punk scene) makes it seem, well, born under a good sign. However, the band members’ recent good fortune is the product of years of hard work in other bands and a willingness to try new things and constantly expand their knowledge and abilities when it comes to songwriting, recording and performing. “We as people have been doing this a long, long time, and we’ve played in tons of different bands,” Ford remarks. “We’re looking for longevity, and the more you understand about the process, the better. Learning something new is never wrong.”

The show is $7, and advance tickets might be a good idea.

Battles/Ponytail at Beauty Bar, June 29

Alas, I am going to miss this show. In fact, I’m writing from the airport at the moment, getting ready to head east for my step-grandmother’s funeral. Jason and I got bumped from our first flight (we’ve been here for five hours now) but in return got an upgrade to first class (a definite solid, as we’re headed to Connecticut) and two round-trip tickets gratis.

Anyway, I saw Battles a couple of years ago. I met John Stainer, their drummer, who was the original force behind Helmet. Nice enough guy. Much nicer than Damon Che, drummer for Don Caballero and former conspirator with Ian Williams, Battles’ guitarist. I interviewd Damon Che a while back–the man was incredibly standoffish, though a great interview. Anyone who references Lee Majors and Farah Fawcett, the size of his ass and bar rags in a forty second span is worth listening to. Their split was acrimonious to say the least; judging by Myspace plays at this point, it seems like Williams is winning. I still think Don Cab is superior, but that mostly goes back to their record American Don, which is probably the pinnacle of instrumental math rock.

I can’t figure out why this show is at the Beauty Bar, except that the Casbah has Steve Poltz and Anya Marina that night. Something tells me both shows will do fine. I’m having trouble imagining the individual that will feel genuinely torn between Battles’ Nintendo rock and Steve and Anya singing songs about whales and moonlit walks.

I’m still not quite sold on the Beauty Bar as a legitimate alternative to the Casbah from a sound reinforcement perspective, but a lot of the bad press from the rock crowd is a little undeserved. Sure, it’s frequented by hipsters who still need training wheels, but they serve beer and booze just like every other venue and the security team strike me as being agreeable dudes. So I’m going to second (or third) cat dirt and tell people to go there. Just be aware that you may be treated haughtily by a certain bartender. I find that kind of behavior hysterical: you’re selling beer in the middle of a “neighborhood in transition” to college kids, and you’re acting like you’re writing the great American novel.