I have a theory about Tuesdays.
On Mondays I usually wake up in the morning excited and with the energy to start a brand new week. Wednesdays I am right in the middle of the week. Working hard and beginning to look forward to what will be going on during the weekend. Thursdays I am already planning out my weekend events and feeling the anticipation of how awesome it’s going to be. Fridays the weekend has begun and that means shows! Saturday, more shows and finally, Sundays I rest up, buy the food I will need for the week and get ready to start the whole process all over again.
But Tuesdays? Meh… Nothing ever happens on a Tuesday.
However, yesterday was another story. Yesterday I was taken by surprise as I was transported to another universe where time and music culture history melted into a single moment of the space-time continuum. A place where retro and modern were tightly intertwined in ways that were inexplicably coherent and somehow actually made perfect sense.
Pegstar Concerts put on another great show last night that rocked the hell out of people. Los Angeles bands Mystic Braves and The Dream Ride with Houston’s own Ganesha took the crowd on a trip that will not soon be forgotten. I know I won’t.
The night started on time at 8:00 pm with guitar-heavy Ganesha who kicked things off with a loud and powerful set. Ganesha is a band I have seen many times playing the Houston live music venue circuit and I have to admit that it has taken some time for them to grow on me. They seem to be a band that is still looking for their definition and to me it has been very interesting over the years to watch as they chisel out of pure stone what will eventually be their signature sound. Last night was no exception. Usually performing as a power guitar trio, they incorporated a fourth member (Michael Abouelias) on the keys who gave the band a different feel than what we had heard from them before. They played heavy songs that reminded me of acts like late 60’s era Black Sabbath and Deep Purple at their darkest. Guitarist and singer Ricky Dee took to the stage with confidence. Armed with a white Stratocaster and wearing a Texas tie (if you don’t know what that is, you Yankee doodles, look up “Bolo tie”), he provided the powerhouse chords and licks to a darker and more sinister Ganesha than what I had heard before. Bassist Noe Kimes pounded on his bass guitar with energy and precision while occasionally letting loose with some serious headbanging as he, and wildly-flailing-dreadlocked drummer, Sammy Reyna laid the foundation down like nobody’s business.
To be honest, this was not the Ganesha that I was expecting. As I write this article I am torn between this version and the one I was really getting in to. In previous shows I had made this idea in my head of Ganesha as what would happen if Stevie Ray Vaughan (God rest his soul) woke up one day after listening to a bunch of System of a Down and said, “You know what? I’m gonna start playing metal.” Ganesha, to me, was that incarnation. Really amazing blues guitar but with perhaps a little more distortion than what you would feel comfortable with but at the same time secretly loved. Real gritty, kick to the face, rocking ass blues that you could feel down in your bones. I was struggling with these thoughts during their show, and as if reading my mind, Ganesha ended their set with the song “Go Away” which clearly illustrates this style I am talking about. Perhaps as an old geezer who sometimes has trouble adapting to change, I almost felt a sense of relief to hear Ganesha playing what I was anticipating to hear from them. I am very happy they did that and didn’t leave me hanging. Not to say that I can’t get in to the rest of what they are doing… it’s probably just going to take me a little more time to adapt to it.
In any case, the crowd took to them with great appetite and with great consent. Ganesha played to a maxed crowd that screamed for more after their last song and the band pleased them by playing a short instrumental power riff that once again, reflected that bluesy metal Ganesha that I have come to know and love.
The next act of the evening was LA’s The Dream Ride. This band is one of the many incarnations of Jeffertitti Moon (yeah, I know… coolest name EVER!) along with a couple of members of Mystic Braves on the keys and drummer Michael Villiers on the skins.
So, perhaps I am out of the loop or something, but there seems to be this really cool, back to the 60’s and 70’s thing going on in rock and roll where bands are wearing a lot of polyester and playing some really psychedelic stuff that touches on the past but brings it into today. The Dream Ride is not the first band I have seen with this trip but I will say that so far, it is one of the best I have seen. Their look is straight out of the post-hippie/glam era bands like Grand Funk Railroad and Mott the Hoople but their music is more in line with The Postal Service and Foster the People. Sounds like a dichotomy, right? But here’s the kicker… IT WORKS!!!
Jeffertitti Moon is one hell of a showman who sings very melodic songs while turning knobs on his vocal effects pedals and turning heads with his shaking hips and kicks. He is the kind of rock star Russel Brand has always wanted to be. Watching him perform was a delight to myself and to the crowd who danced and sang along to his songs with enthusiasm. I liked how approachable he was on stage as he interacted with his fans directly and exchanged conversation with them in the middle of his performance. This is a guy who knows how to entertain and knows that his fans are the most important part of the business. The drummer is a towering dude of about 7 feet (how much of that is him or his giant afro is up for grabs) who provides an analog and very human beat to the otherwise mostly electronic sound of the band which is described on their Facebook page as Electro-Magnetic-Dream-Disco.
To me, the highlight of their performance was a cover version of “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac in the middle of their set. This was what best described to my already pleasantly overloaded brain the whole idea and concept of the band. Forget all about those guitars and stringed instruments in the original version. This version was pure electronic bliss, slowed down to about 30 beats per minute and with a haunting vocal performance that really put the dream in “Dreams”. Once I heard that song, I understood what was going on. I got it. 70’s meets now and not only does it work, but it sounds beautiful and fun and once you hear it, you’re going to want to be a part of it. I’m not saying that I’m going to go out there and get myself a pair of bell bottom polyester pants that are a bit too tight in the crotch area (I really don’t think that I would get invited to many places after that) but I am definitely going to be on the lookout for more bands like The Dream Ride. I really dig the vibe.
The closing act of the night was the psychedelic acid flashback of Mystic Braves. This band took me waaaaaaaay back to my father’s old vinyl records of The Animals, Los Angeles Negros, The Doors and Steppenwolf. One look at this band, their vintage instruments and amps and you felt like you were sitting in front of the old cathode ray tube TV watching The Jefferson Airplane on The Midnight Special or Top of the Pops. I half expected Dick Cavett to come out and interview them at some point during the show or at least to have someone pull out their paperback version of Kerouac’s “On the Road” and start an old fashion reading.
Ok, enough of that… Mystic Braves was awesome. They make no excuses about who they are and what they play. They just go out there and do it. If you thought that mid 60’s revival was not a real thing, Mystic Brave is here to tell you otherwise. Singer Julian Ducatenzeiler plays an old Harmony Silhouette guitar from God knows when and oh man, does it sound beautiful. His vocals are soft and relaxed, taking you on a ride of mellow grooves and mind altering hallucinogenic sonar quality. Bassist and singer Tony Malacara plays a rolling bass through a Phantom Teardrop and has a bit more bite to his voice, with undertones of John Lennon and Eric Burdon. Guitarrist Shane Stotsenberg plays a Vox teardrop and an Eko 12 string while also providing the third voice to the bands’ full, retro harmonies. Cameron Gartung is back on the drums, playing steady and true 4 by 4 beats on a kit built low to the ground in the style of Ringo’s old Ludwig and Ignacio Gonzalez sits at what could be an old Wurlitzer or a Hammond (wish I knew more about keyboards) and occasionally pulls out the tambourine to mark the beat in true 60’s surf rock fashion.
Out of the three bands, Mystic Braves was by far the most retro of the evening. They do not mix newer sounds into what they are doing and instead deliver a true to form mid 60’s psychedelic revival experience. They do this very accurately and convincingly without looking phony or contrived which is in and of itself a remarkable achievement in today’s age of skepticism in music and music performers. Every member is completely at home in this time warp and makes it easy for the crowd to follow them into it. The audience danced, grooved and partied like it was 1969. A really awesome experience for all.
There were some downsides to the show that I feel I must comment on though.
A live performance is a very delicate thing. It creates a symbiotic existence between the performer and the audience that can be easily broken by factors that have nothing to do with how hard the performer is trying to keep that link. In order to capture and keep the undivided attention of the crowd, any band, performer, musician, etc., relies heavily on two things: Sight and sound. If the sound is wrong or the lighting is wrong, that symbiotic bubble bursts and the audience member’s mind begins to wander towards the bills that need to be paid, the neighbor’s cat that has to be fed and if they’re going to get lucky tonight with that hot person in the corner or not. The focus leaves the performance and turns within. The best concerts are the ones in which we completely forget that we are at a concert and we experience it instead as a life event.
The sound quality of the bands last night was not bad. Don’t get me wrong. It was good, but sloppy. For example, during Ganesha’s performance, there was a constant humming noise in the background. It sounded like a vibrating E string from one of the other band’s instruments which were left on the stage, resonating through an amp that was left on. This is something that any sound engineer with any salt would be able to resolve. Either by finding the hum on the channel board and lowering the volume of the offending one or by physically going up on stage and turning the amp off. But there was no movement, no effort, no nothing from the sound engineer to do anything about it during the entire performance. As a photographer, it is my job to help the bands look good by taking pictures of them that get them at their best angle and draw people into the photo. I don’t help any of the bands if I show pictures of them in the middle of blinking or making a face in some heated moment that just didn’t work out. As sound engineers, it is your job to help the bands sound good and lend a hand when things go wrong sound-wise on stage. Now, I get it… there are bands out there that no amount of sound engineering can help, but that was not the case last night. Fixing that humming noise should have been a no-brainer.
Then there’s the lighting. White Oak Music Hall has some pretty good lighting on that second floor stage. Not stadium lights, mind you, but good lights that can make a band’s performance look damn good and keep the crowd motivated. During the entire night, all the bands had nothing but back lighting even though there were four perfectly good lights facing the stage from the front which were turned off. Not only that but there was no movement or dynamics in the lighting. While I do have a sense of humor and can find amusing the idea of bands under lights like those precooked rotisserie chickens under steady hot lights at the supermarket, I find it counterproductive to the brilliance of last night’s performances that there was no stage light planning or action at all. Maybe this is me being a photographer and seeing the world through a light dependent lens, but I feel it is a disservice to the bands who are working so hard up there. Lighting is not that hard. Mix up the colors, don’t use just one. Oranges and yellows are awesome but keep it light on the reds and the blues (use them only as highlights) and for God’s sake, put a little bit of white light on the performer’s front! We don’t want to see an artist with an orange light on his face, turning him into an oompa-loompa or so much blue that they all become smurfs.
Other than those two things (which I will admit are personal pet peeves of mine and thus make me cranky) the night was a real trip. I had a great time and the crowd did too.
Congratulations to Pegstar Concerts and all the bands for putting together a great show. I learned new things about the current music scene as well as the awesome things that are being done out there and I had the chance to shoot at a venue that I had not shot at before. It was great to break the monotony of what would have otherwise been just another tedious Tuesday.
See you at the next show!