Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Valley Soul's "Talking Pictures" Part 2, Review - To Become Their Own Firefly

“We’re alive. Take it or leave it. Human conditioning our reality,” is how wails the catalyst unto a sonic story, the sort with whose recounting I am not as accustomed as with its consumption. Perhaps I am wrong, however, as the introduction to this story would suggest. It is merely the condition of my reality, that I would fancy myself no journalist, but rather a storyteller. There is another story compiled upon our peninsula of so numerous tales. Though many attribute to themselves the same, few are heard so resolutely, few are transposed by the ears of alien communities whose receptions might differ between each other. On the seventeenth of June, 2017, at Cooper’s Pub in Cannery Row, I witnessed as Valley Soul departed for just that purpose, to bring their story abroad of the Bay. Part of me feels that the tale is not mine to tell, but part of me feels an obligation to interpret its substance nonetheless, especially in the absence of its creators.
“Nature is calling you back. Not the kind of feelings you find underneath all your stacks,” Joe Scardina assures, and too assures repeatedly, that “Through all the anger, all the pain, there’s gain.” And again am I assured that lyrical cadence drives the flow of a song like the wind drives a sailboat. In the fourth track of the album, titled Work, Valley Soul displays a deliberated rendering of their listeners. While most of the band’s lyrics are cleverly arranged, I make this track exemplary - even the collective whoop that extinguishes the song, though not my favorite method, is as important to its composition as the synthetic harpsichord’s oriental scalings. A whimsical ambience is set by Adam’s keys, Richard Tripps lays down the grind beneath swelling and recessing guitar riffs, and amongst the grueling push for the song’s release, the singers, in unison, haunt us; “Work, work, work. All day long.” When they are finished reminding the audience of life’s incessant malice, the tone lightens, and we are advocated of nature’s grace. All this work was for no lucrativity, no career - simply survival, the preservation of life, the only grace by which all beings are permitted existence. If they had not erupted into this bridge via such recycled methods as the ‘eighth-note drum n’ strum,’ (1:55) the ballad would render my likes none but content.
“Don’t you care that I’m here? Don’t you know that I’m here?” I am asked, though I have asked the question innumerable times - occasionally unto others, even if they hear me not, but usually to myself. I am of the opinion that the acceptance and consequential embrace of grief is the most potent medicine. A display of one’s own despair can allow others the realization that their anguish is not unique. Unless your issue lies in attention-reception, this should not diminish one’s emotions, but adapt them, accommodate them, and make them more accommodating as well. Master of Loneliness finds the listener at the end of Work’s insistence of the necessity of the grind, and makes it all the more believable that such a journey is necessary, that the grief and longing is still to come, will always wait for you on the horizon, will always stare back at you in old photographs and Facebook posts. Appropriately, at this, the song never relieves itself of the band’s characteristic pulse - a go-to for the band that is ambiguous enough to be versatile - for what else persists within you after all the anger, all the pain? And when the pulse heavies, and time bends and slows around it, voices echo out like spirits, the guitars lament beside the keyboard, and the bards ask, all in longing, who cares? Who knows?
“I will come to you. In time. It will all come to you. In time.” When the piano keys roll in like a tranquilized swell upon the shore, the chorus wails out that someone, whosoever it may be, will come to them, in time, and when the insistence seems fleeting, so too flees the song by an easy beat and reserved piano. This reservation in Ingram’s talons and the butterfly pulse of Tripp’s drums magnetizes the song’s design. In terminology befitting of Monterey’s many foppish fellows, they sing, “I see you dancin with the pretty boys, oh-oh-oh, and it turns me on. See you talkin to the lonely boys, oh-oh-oh, and it gets me on.” The guitars calibrate to the keys, seep into their high-heeled groove. Then the song slows, just as one’s breath might pause, “You’re free, it’s the kinda thing you don’t repeat to anyone else. Soft and sweet, the kinda thing you lonely people need, like anyone…” and we are told again, “It will all come to you in time.” This song, albeit its apparent thematic simplicity, speaks less to the extrovert who might actually relate to the seductive antics of dancing dames, and more to the introvert who might yearn to understand why it is that people seduce each other. It speaks to the illusion of love so many love songs impose, and with which so many aspiring lovers quarrel, until they’ve no capacity to love left over. Thus the band insists, that, “I don’t wanna be alone with you,” over surfy, fun-pop beats. Adam Ingram then wails away his sorrows with a most amusing tale, from the novelty victory for a rodentine plushie named Chuck, to the traverse down-coast in search of jade crystals, the character presented here seems some satire of local peninsular peoples. The needle is again moved before the track is over, while the bandmates chant over a low-fi recording of snare and bass, “Lonely, lonely, you’re the only one that’s singing cause you’re lonely, lonely…”
“I will just trickle, I will trickle all over your walls.” Such is the sensation at the climax of this story, the lurid vision that remained always at the terminal, with increasing resolution - at least, that is what it seems, and thus would the song have had a more fitting place nearer to the album’s end. This song is of Kristen Gradwohl’s conception, and it seems her most prominent brainchild. In the moment of the song, however, there is a dusky ascent away from the other tracks, as though not into a heavenly realm, but a sidereal one, where all therein is but another beacon of brilliance from Earth. Firefly is a ubiquitous ballad of introspection. “When I was a child,” Kristen opens in a voice shrill and innocent, “I was a firefly, lighting up the way, until the day I die.” A suspenseful pause, as Valley Soul so adores utilizing, and the song picks up its feet, initiates its long and despairing attempt to leave the ground. “Grandfather always told me I was his brightest star. Now I am growing older… but where are my wings to fly?” Already the lament is clear. The metamorphosis we all must undergo, regardless of its incarnation, to liberate ourselves of the untruths of our innocence, to interpret the wisdoms we gather in childhood when the successive years seem to only dampen the light. So few are equipped to accommodate even the stark, universal motifs that Kristen translates of her own personal tribulations, which is why so many ought to understand the song’s discipline. I will not describe too heavily the structure of this one. You are better off listening to it for your first time if you have not yet heard it. I certainly recall my first time hearing Kristen shatter flames with her singing in Firefly. Cohesively, this track is the story of shadow’s encroachment, the story of how we are born into a very apparent world, a world wherein we think we know so much because, in our childhood, it is just small enough to contain us. This is the story of how the world expands around you, while the light you emit with which to see it diminishes, and it is the story of how one’s self, and no one else, must become their very own firefly.
“I’m one step further inside your head,” is rather appropriate a thing to hear while coming down from track five, but otherwise, the intro to track six, By Your Side, is almost instantly slack, like a fisherman whose excitement in the wake of a few successful casts makes a struggle of measuring his line’s tautness. That does not last long. After the intro sits us through a dancy chord progression and carves its groove in whatever fissure it finds, I found myself thinking, My, it’s another Valley Soul song, as though I expected more variation. Varied I’m sure it sounded to the band, to some adequate degree, for it is the sounds of their own myriad consciences. However, I found myself sinking into dissatisfaction, believing, after Firefly flew me to a domain deep behind cognitive frontiers, that the rest of the album might live up to the holy trinity of tracks preceding this song. However, when Adam and Kristen begun their serenade, when the harmony effused from the purple lights and the trembling fog, I was only reminded that I dig Valley Soul’s sound, and that this song is, if anything, a wonderful example of it. In this case, I forgave the lack of stylistic deviation that I pretentiously demand of my peers, simply because this fucking gypsy disco makes gyrate my shoulders and writhe my neck with an ecstasy unfounded on previous musical preferences.
Sympathy is a miser bastard, though, despite the pricelessness of compassion. It can consume opinions in its genteel maw, for so comfortable they sit upon its lips, and thus it steals away the arrogance and apathy that make people critics. People tell me that I am compassionate more often than they tell me how much of an asshole I am, but parts of me refuse to believe, so should anyone be discontented with my abrasion, let them be satisfied that such is simply the way I am. Now, onto the hard portion: telling artists how to art. I never liked creative writing classes (though I took two), cause I didn’t want to be told how to art, but here I am, about to tell Valley Soul that they did not cater properly to my specific and completely unwarranted tastes. And I will refrain from suggesting more mandolin, or more psychedelics, or more polskas, or more angst. With that out of the way, Awaken was perhaps too underwhelming, too ordinary of their style, or too… too… jovial? Fuck. I just did it, didn’t I? Well it’s true, to me, anyway, that on an album where so much melancholy is communicated through so much elation, an acute manner of concluding the sonic holiday would have been through a more contented subject sung upon a melancholy tone. Soul’s music is highly constructive, a talent that is so difficult to forge as any weapon - it is the heat of the anvil singing, while most succeed only to discuss the sound the sword makes when they shatter it. In lieu of this leeway, the band has accomplished more than most with the efficacy of their message. For my personal flavors, however, such construction requires temperament. I do not take any of Valley Soul’s members for alcoholics, but rather, I appreciated the dampening of their typical stylizations by Kristen Gradwohl’s unique brand of lamentation, and by Pretty Boy’s four-minute outro sequence, and yearned for more of these deviations. I was not rewarded.

Then there are two songs about which I am very tepid, titled Opening the Door, which is the second track on the album, and Friends, which is the eighth track. Both songs are powerful in their own respects. On track two, Tommy Howbert wails as though heard calling desperately through the door just slightly ajar. His emotive facility is wielded as though it were another instrument, an extension of himself harnessed and holstered but still a wild sort of beast, yearning at open vistas and eager to take risks. I like Tommy’s risks, and honestly, it was what salvaged Opening the Door from merely an indistinguishable Valley Soul song, to a piece that I recall fondly. It was the song’s remainder that, although well composed and well performed, was too safe. As technically the first single of the album (meaning it saw a Soundcloud release before the rest) and a long-time staple of their shows, Friends is far from forgettable, but it is just as far from fresh. This opinion, of course, is marred by the fact that I have seen Valley Soul perform enough times that, should I recall the number, I would have to start counting on my fingers (alas my fingers remain on the keys). It seems to me that it was created in the genesis of the album out of their EP, and was likely among the first to achieve completion. The song feels like less of a tale than many of their others, and is more of an anthem to each other - a beautiful thing, that, and it is thus pieced together with a clean and concise deliberation, as though each member wrote their portion of the song in dedication to the others. Even if not for my preference of a more begrieved tune to balance the album’s conclusion, of the songs present already, this one would have made an excellent outro. It feels somewhat like the proper conclusion to the journey that is so spiritually communed with us. The album is intimate, as should most albums be, and maintains its sense of earthiness, of solidarity, which grounds it even amidst such heady notions as those to which we are enlightened in Human Condition and Firefly. Even for a mild shortcoming in diversity, Talking Pictures is well and piteously ordained as the debut of this band, and I could think of none better. Their future is still, as we speak, conditioning to itself, to the peculiar folks they will encounter and with whom they shall also commune. Their lights are growing brighter, even as their world grows, and even as the growing world dims. There must be some reason folks like Kevin Call seem to suppress their worry, or some reason why folks like Tommy Howbert seem to worry so much. They have much of whose protection they are keen, foremost among these possessions being the very subject of that aptly-titled track, Friends.

Thank you again for reading my first attempt at an album review - it'll probably go down the memory-shitter and won't be as fondly remembered as the first part, or as this album, but I tried, dammit. If you dig Valley Soul and want to keep an eye on them or keep track of their tour dates/locations, like them on Facebook, subscribe to them on Soundcloud, or follow them on Instagram. To buy their album, check out their Bandcamp. To pay your homage to the creator of this blog, check out KAE9mm on Facebook and hear his savagery on Soundcloud.

If you want to get in touch with me, the author, shoot an e-mail to widmer.wyatt@gmail.com and I'll get back to you promptly.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Valley Soul's "Talking Pictures" Part One - Good Spirits at a Coffee Lounge? The Best.

I arrived beside a familiar face around the corner from East Village coffee lounge on Saturday night, the Tenth of June, 2017. The night prior, I attended this Mister Vucina’s concert, Mental Musk’s second performance at Cuz’s Sportsman Club, but my weekend fervor was not thus diminished. We jittered and twirled excitedly about until the adjacent parking spots were full with friends, and we transited to Griffin Plaza. This forum is located outside the café in such a manner that they seem a singular entity. Such could be easily believed, for the plaza was amok with the overflow of patrons, and every time I finished my greeting of one guest, I was fettered by another. Former members of Glass House mingled with the Beholder Band and Mental Musk, sprinkled with every other bard on the peninsula, from mercenary musicians to staple songwriters. For a moment, I saw the reticent Adam Ingram stood inside beneath his distinctive baseball cap, watching the gentle lullabies of Beach Dayze during their melancholy opening performance. Perhaps it was but an exhaustion of any ill humours still under his skin, for Adam to indulge the art rather than mingle as did I until Valley Soul took the stage. “My emotions about last night are multi-layered, and it’s daunting to think about how to express myself,” he told me upon our chance to converse. “There was this layer of faith. A faith that happens when someone has to hold on and trust that their efforts aren’t in vain. Excitement, anxiety, and pure gratitude bubbled up, off and on.” Layers certainly began to peel away from early in the dusk, but how else might emerge the fresh carapace, like a clean palate to slather in paint?
After uncounted weeks tended by the comfort of partial reclusion, there were becoming few obligations that might spur me from my corral. Facebook berated me daily, told me which muses were to sing their songs that night or the proximate weekend, and I ignored them in majority. The muses who succeed best in luring my pretentious self from the ascetics of breadwork and editing, however, are often those whose attempts were without vanity, without the foolhardy assurance that the ticket fare was worth its price. Imagine a gal, one of a class I have heard affectionately described as the ‘manic pixie type,’ while she sensually devours a piece of peanut-butter toast, the camera held low-angle and within a hand’s length from her maw. Two minutes and fourteen seconds is four-hundred and fifty percent of a normal advertisement, but I watched it all with a grimace I wish I had photographed. Worry not of my meaning - I grimaced only for the sound of chewed peanut-butter. Otherwise, I was elated. This was the advertisement for a KPIG radio feature of Valley Soul’s debut album, Talking Pictures, and I had awaited this album since even before my purchase of their self-titled EP. Such discomforting ecstasy was not their entire promotional campaign. In another video, Tommy Howbert and Adam Ingram stood in a concrete yard, one dribbling a basketball and the other jittering side to side. “Hey BROTHER,” Tommy slapped his hands and his thighs, “why doncha go ahead n pass me that rock?” and he slapped his hands and his thighs. This was the most professional absurdist basketball lesson I had ever received, as Tommy gracefully(?) employed techniques of swishing that could land a pea in a thimble, and it was also an advertisement for Talking Pictures. See now, dear reader, why I anticipated their album so.
In the back of East Village’s lurid stage-floor as I conversed with the long-missed Vincent Randazzo, I said, “In my opinion, this is probably the only group round here with a shot at making it – as in out of this town and into a big city or something,”
“They’ll make it out. They gotta long road ahead of them,” he responded with earnest, and he peered down the length of the room as though it was but the terminal from which they might depart, while the brick river flowed far over the horizon.
Wesley Kise relaxed outside besides Bagel. He looked around with brows arise and a bitten lip. “Damn! There’s a lotta people here!” he famously discovered. “Hey, good reason for it, right?”
My experience with my fellow fans certainly showed as much. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a while,” Yvan Vucina nodded. “All the people in Valley Soul are just good people, down to Earth. They respect me and they love their art, that’s all I ask for.”
Elliot Crisco Cheesebrother shook his singer by the shoulder and grinned wide as he chuckled, “I’m excited! This is gonna be sick.”
“I’ve been waiting a while for this,” Simon, lead guitarist of the Beholder Band said. “Apparently so have a lot of people.”
“I’m just glad it’s finally out,” said Joe Scardina, the tallest of Valley Soul’s singers and guitarists, standing amidst his eager peers. “This must have been the longest trip of my life. Feels like we’re starting a new chapter in the band, in life! I just don’t know what to think yet!”
When Joe made this statement, however, he had yet finished the journey - if this event were the climax of the chapter, then it had yet occurred at the time of this quote, and the resolution theoretically descends only during their forthcoming tour. So after local staple band, Proudest Monkeys, abdicated their position at the helm of East Village’s narrow performance room, the cobbled walls became turbulent with colorful lights, and the floor was filled by fog, and the time was nigh.
So I swigged down the remainder of my au lait tea and finished my quiche, as one so heartily does in such a ramblin-man’s joint as East Village. Though ill I felt for missing the opener to their show, I found myself intoxicated by a medication so thoroughly administered at many of Monterey’s nervous shows - and though Gramma Gradwohl’s incense sprigs were an herbal delight, I speak not of their ephemeral essence, nor any other substance you can measure in the metric-system. Side-effects of their medication include swiveling hips, hollering lips, and a frequency of fervor pulsing through the body and brain like a singing bowl. “To receive such support and these little nuggets of healing through song was blowing my mind!” Kristen said of the honor we ordain her by attending these shows. “After each song, there was a roar of the crowd I haven’t experienced at East Village before.” This sound of cheer, of jubal; it has been described since biblical times and before, and has permeated between muse and bemused for much longer. It is an ancient sensation, an indelible human condition that awaits all bestowed with the intuition of solidarity, such as this powerhouse of a band. “...a few individuals explained how uplifted they felt and how much they resonate with the music we produce,” Kristen too said. No embellishment is employed here - in fact, Kristen understates the uproar. I suppose it is this connectivity that might embody the inspiration Valley Soul must draw from The Grateful Dead, with the keystone but a certain rhythm that holds its compatriots together despite their disparity. Richard’s drums often tell me acid jazz, Adam’s keyboard often tells me electro-disco, Joe and Tommy’s guitars often tell me of funk and honky tonk. All compiled, however, I cannot designate the band to any of these genres. I hear Valley Soul.
With four singers, this eclecticism extended to the most resonative of all sounds: the voice. Joe’s voice is versatile, not for its stylistic diversity, but for its ease of placement, as it is swaddled comfortably by most any tone the band employs, especially as the bread of the cake when the bards all sing in unison (the bread’s more important than the frosting, guys). The characteristic voice of Adam Ingram was something of a genre familiar and bold, and yet executed cleanly, even as he was prone to a few minor mishaps whilst live - the pitch imperfections are made irrelevant, however, by the persona with which he embodies his music (skip to 4:00). I believe Kristen, as my returning readers might know, incurred her voice through provident blessing, and I was pleased to hear her more prominent position on the new album. Her counterpart in the ensemble is too the prime subject of her affections, her elations, her confusions which she wails to him as he wails them back. Tommy Howbert’s voice is gentle, even more than Kristen’s, sometimes, and it blossoms off of his tongue, tender as the petals of blue heather, yet striking as would the Cambridge shirt, should it had ever seen fruition. Tommy’s voice is one I should like to hear lamenting over a tearful harp. Mister Howbert seemed unconvinced, however, that his voice alone was worth the mild tribulations that marred its expression on stage. An electrical shortage midway through their performance, though repaired by the audio-oriented hand of Trevor Lucier, marred Tommy’s thoughts. “We had some, uh, technical difficulties earlier on, as you noticed,” he explained at the brew-bar after the show. “That was scary. Like, I was already getting scared when we got here, then we started playing and I was like ‘We’re alright!’ and then I was just like, ‘Shit.’”
More technical difficulties arose during the encore. Joe had told the crowd, two songs ago, that it was their last number for the night, in the interest of time. Time had dissolved into the songs, however, as the crowd had felt the music and could not express their gratitude enough, could not quell themselves or allow the band to pack away without the chance to show each other again, why they do this. On such matters, Adam Ingram eloquently explained, “It felt strange, and at the same time fitting to have so many people showing so much support for us. When you work so hard and long on something artistic you sometimes lose sight of what you were going for in the first place.” A notion I understand as intimately as Adam spoke it, as I no longer grasp the ‘why’ of why I write - it has evolved into a necessity, a dependency. Perhaps that was the source of Tommy’s anxiety over the second instance of technical difficulty.
“It got pretty slippery during that encore, mic problems and all, but I thought it was all pretty solid,” he said. But I was watching acutely during this mic failure, and there were not many sights that might have better concluded the night as Tommy and Kristen jolting up and down to the beat, glistening in sweat as they locked eyes and sang desperately into the same microphone.
“Are you feeling loved?” I asked Kevin Call as I wandered across a now empty floor. He was alone on stage, wrapping cords. Warm was the thin-lipped smile that met me as his feline face turned up and greeted me through big, square spectacles.
An appreciative handshake and an exchange of greetings yielded to his response. “I guess that’s what I’m feeling,” he nodded and some humor indecipherable curled the corner of his mouth. “How could I not, right? There’s so many friends here tonight, so many familiar faces all gathering. Not like I could see those faces very well in the crowd.” We chuckled and I looked over my shoulder, at the empty floor, at the beginning. Kevin, though certainly in good moods, was more subdued than I remembered him, and he kept glancing to the floorboards covered in vague footprints. Shaking his head undeservingly, he smiled and said, “ I couldn’t believe how many people were moving around in this tiny-little space!” A glance over his shoulder cast his attention upon the road ahead, perhaps the culprit of his earnestude. “The road’s about to be our home for a while. That’s all I’m lookin forward to.”
“Our roots are hoping to expand for sure,” Kristen noted of the matter of moving forward.
“Or move to a big city. Any notion of that, or are you very present?”
“We were called on in a lotta the cities. LA and San Diego are ready for us, so we’ve been getting the second half of our summer tour planned out.”
To the happenstantial backdrop of their new song, Work, Adam Ingram reflected through an eloquent pensivity.“It felt great, Wyatt.” This was blatant by Adam’s drunken visage in the immediate wake of his performance - not from craft brewskis, but from the desire to keel over, all numb and face damp, indistinguishable of sweat or tears. “It is something so intimate to us, and something beautiful and frustrating all at once. We have so much more to share and I think this release really took a beautiful weight off of us. Time to move forward and grow.”
“One could say that last night was the release of more than just the album,” Kristen clarified. However, certainly it was too the shouldering of a surreal burden. The trust of countless anonymous people was and will be bestowed upon Valley Soul, now, and the uncountable masses will only mutate and grow with them, especially as they export their resonation up and down the West Coast. I imagine there will come remnants of the days of old, the days of the EP, when hand-twined rosemary sprigs could determine the difference between a fiscally stable night, and a loss. The band’s pixie noted on such matters as the unbeknownst thievery of the the smudge sticks, which were created in honor of her late grandmother, “As an artist, money is a delicate relationship, and time is precious. Especially as a woman… I have to get creative…”. At this, positive am I, if my paltry personal familiarity with the band can serve me at all, that Kristen spoke loosely of the money’s tangible repercussions. Money is not only a sensitive topic for artists on account of its fleeting tendencies. People are not commodities, but art relies on the personal and emotional connectivity of the audience to which it’s distributed. And all the while, its importance does not diminish, even as an audience is lost, for it is the creator’s offspring. Reason enough, that, to concede to the venue cover (until so packed is the venue that they must turn away guests), to pick up an album (until they all get sold out), and to pay for your rosemary (until they just start handing them away for free). “I just surrendered to the evening. It’s a part of letting go… I have a feeling they went to the right people.”
So is the technique of operating a band so beloved, the fans who cherish it beyond control. “One day I’ll just stop - drop, die, and I’ll disappear,” haunt the lyrics of their song Master of Loneliness, even atop the heartbeat drumline. Though the song resonated with myself more than most on the album (save Firefly), I am not convinced any such transgression will occur to the members of Valley Soul - when they die, they will never disappear. On Saturday night, they made sure of that.

Thank you again, readers, for allowing me to express myself about other people expressing themselves. If you want to catch Valley Soul's new album, Talking Pictures, then you can purchase it here on iTunes for the time being, and stream it on Soundcloud. Keep up with the band's antics at their Facebook page, Kristen, too, has a solo project from which much music is published on Americana Recordings' Soundcloud. If you want to see the music of the man who makes this blog possible, check out Kae9mm over at his Soundcloud, too.
If you want to get in touch with the author, e-mail me at widmer.wyatt@gmail.com and I'll get back to you.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Johnnny Tsunami Serves Savory Renditions - Musk Minus Mochelly - Armin Yaeger's Benefit Show

Like most places, Monterey is rather historic - it’s culture carries with it a perpetual legacy to which locals stubbornly adhere in one way or another. So with all the tin cans and classic literature and hippies, it might seem difficult to create a lasting impact in this sleepy place. In this vein, one could debate the importance of, and too the difference between legacy and history for some time. I know, for I have battled the query myself. Speaking before the world’s grand theater, they are like lupines and monkeyflowers, or like trap music and rap music. Each are apparently the same upon an undeveloped glance, but have paltry similarities. While both legacy and history are derived of time passed, and while both are easily distorted, obscured, or weaponized, history is objective, while legacy is subjective. Legacy cannot exist without history, just as philosophy cannot exist without science, and while asking which came first is an evolutionary paradox, one can certainly annotate when both are witnessed in the same event. For all this bullshit that might induce brooding in even the most stoic of intellects, however, I am actually prefacing what some would (correctly) deem a minor affair, as most are in Monterey County. To what I refer is an intimate event that celebrated a little bit of legacy, while creating a little bit of history, albeit the procession’s containment within a quintessential dive bar in Seaside, named Cuz’s Sportsman’s Club. Mental Musk, minus Mochkelly, offered a rejuvenating performance, after their retirement from a most quarrelsome gig with which they wrestled in valor for entirely too long. With their Stetson-donned drummer who substituted Patrick Kelly in addition to his normal obligations, so too did perform the legion of long-lived locals, known as Johnny Tsunami and The Shoulder Hoppers, the intermissions serenaded by Yvan Vucina. The role these two bands adopted, although on the night after Chris Cornell’s suicide, was not in his honor, (though honored Cornell would have been to attend this show) but rather in honor of a man who I’d only grinned to meet between the two ensembles. A surfer, he is, and a skater too, with a strong sense of home that sets my eyes aglow. A warmth carried from his bald head to his plaster arm cast, which all made very wordlessly clear his identity, as well as the honor by which so many guests abided with their attendance. His name is Armin… a cast, that is - a circumstance only after he’d eaten asphalt during an attempt to bomb one of Pacific Grove’s satin declines. He thus found himself short on rent-money, as is expected when paying another guy to reattach your fingers. Public favor, however, ensured that Armin was far from impoverished, for although short on money, he was exceedingly rich on friends.
I arrived at the Sportsman’s on my longboard, (not to tease Armin, of course) right in the midst of Mental Musk’s opening set, a few familiar faces smiling at me through the doors, and plenty more unfamiliar, but warm nonetheless as their eyes passed my way and beckoned my entry. Elliot Crisco Breadfred Cheesebrother, as I have elected to call him, was first of the stage holders to offer me his smile. It was his that ultimately reeled my tired feet to the front of the nonexistent stage, bathed in the light of neon beer signs and the lamp over the billiards table, upon which rested a cue fastened with a rifle’s lever and scope. There were bearded bikers leatherclad, wicked old men wearing sunglasses indoors under the pool table light, middle-aged mothers and housewives lubricating their joints with alcohol so they may dance and revel until the next episode of Wendy aired. His black jacket flaring with straps and buckles, Yvan Vucina twirled in place and thrashed about as his hands rode the neck of his guitar like a dressage horse.When he stood in place, it was for those angelic eyes to tempt the crowd, (though he knows not what seduction manifests he manifests during his performances [click link for vid]) and for his angelic voice to noose us around the neck, make us feel afloat as the oxygen seeps away into ether. Maybe I imagine such only cause it suffocates me to attempt singing the notes he sings, to attempt to wield the power he reserves under a tepid facade. Elliot, tepid too even in moments of absorption, was exceptionally inspired that night. I cannot suppose even an inkling of what forces inspire a stoic, passive man like Elliot. It was not for my pondering, perhaps, for some power more provident than a few pale ales steamed out his stomach, pervaded from fret-licking fingers to tapping feet with the holy spirit - of John Paul Jones. Upon the stool of the expansive drumset, however, was not the explosion that is Patrick Kelly, and there was not his duct-taped snare or his cherished symbols. There, instead, was an inked cowboy in his black Stetson and ragged tanktop, with a drumset inclusive to the whole of Sublime’s discography. Though unbeknownst of the many changes and transitions that characterize Mental Musk’s catchy but complex music, his tight versatility, volume, and the metal exterior of his costume were more than enough to sate my appetite. And yes, Sublime was certainly among this drummer’s repertoire, for he was a Johnny, or maybe a Tsunami.
“I can play for, like, six hours, straight, just, non-stop,” Allan boasts, and his stature, whether brandishing tattoos or draped with his black undertaker blazer, advised against disputing this claim. “And what else are you gonna do in a situation like this? We’re not used to this, y’know, Johnny Tsunami. We play three set shows straight and we jam on most of em, then ya throw these boys into it.” It was refreshing for him, however. “If you didn’t notice, I have a total metalhead tryna break out.”
“I did notice.”
“Yeah, especially when I play with these guys, and I havta play all lightly so you can actually hear em!” He laughs to himself, one of but a few smiles that pried open his beard. A tangent regarding the late Cornell ensued, then Allan concluded, “So I don’t mind playing with Musk. It’s fun, even though it’s hard to keep up. You saw me on that cover of The Ocean we did - I just couldn’t get it down. But the first time I saw Mental Musk was like, one of their first shows… I gotta say, these boys get better every time I see em.”
Soon after, Allan removed his blazer, and reclaimed his pedestal before the drumset. He was accompanied by three other men of similar age. Beanie-donned Barrett quietly tuned his guitar. Another imposing figure known as Royster, looking like a caucasian tiki-man who settled down in Monterey’s white sands, pulled up his weed-socks and moved with the groove before it even began. A bald-headed Ron, shorter than his comrades and with a grand total of fifty songs splayed across the floor at his anterior, clutched an acoustic guitar and waited beside one of the microphones. In the midst of their set, as I stood outside the front door, there too appeared a curly-haired man, younger and skinnier than the other musicians. He slipped into the crowd with a saxophone case in hand. I was excited at this, and followed him inside. He removed his jacket and his instrument, and liberated the nervous expression on his face by ripping through each song like Adolphe Sax had forged this weapon for the very purpose. Chris, was this one named, but that's a misnomer for this timid jazz man. “Kroeze” was what Royster insisted I called him, as though it were his baptismal name, pronounced “Crew-zee.”
“Johnny Tsunami is not a real person, I’m guessing,” said I over the lid of my coffee cup, as I discussed with Royster their band. It was a few days after the show and we convened at a cafe in PG.
He became thoughtful, though doubtlessly pitched similar queries in the past. “Well… I guess technically just Barrett and I are. We're I guess the core of Johnny Tsunami, so if you wanted to say we were Johnny Tsunami, I guess you could.” explained he in a deep voice, slathered thickly in the tone, the accent of his homeland - right here on the Peninsula. Even the manner with which he hung his shoulders, slouched his back, and kicked up his feet was pervasively local. “That’s not really fair, though. Allan, Croeze…” and he proceeded to educate me on Chris’ advanced phonemes, “they’re always there. It’s hard to have a show without them.” I had no doubts of this. Without Kroeze and Allan, this band would find it slightly more troublesome to graduate from a mere cover band, to a group of true bards. Without their distinct stylizations of bebop and hard rock, respectively, each song would actually be little more than a cover, but with them, each song is an interpretation, a rendition, a variation. However, the story of Johnny Tsunami excluded the ‘Shoulder-Hoppers’. Therefore, Royster clarified, “Then we have the Shoulder-Hoppers. That’s like Ron. We call him a shoulder-hopper cause he kinda just shows up when he wants to. We’ll perform or practice without him.” However, unlike the traditional notion implied of a shoulder-hopper, Royster clarified, “We appreciate having him, though. His rhythm holds it all together. And I mean, we'll let anyone jam with us.” I could confirm the nature of Ron’s position in the band, as he had abdicated and retreated to the audience while the other four continued, with Barrett and Royster adopting vocals. Aside from other random guests, (ie. anyone who wants to play and can follow the etiquette) “We also have a rapper… Y’know, people think we’re restricted to rock and reggae cause that’s what we usually play, and cause of the crowd we appeal to. Like in that bar, almost everyone’s between ages thirty to sixty or so. But we were around when rap and hip-hop was becoming a thing! Y’know?” He then showed me this video. Certainly they grasped the diversity Royster defended, for a white-boi not far from them in age laid down lines with an attitude that the old-fashioned, east coast-versus-west coast era would have appreciated.
You might now be asking yourself if Johnny Tsunami only plays covers. The answer to that is a technical ‘no’ but a practical ‘yes.’ Royster claims that they have “five or six” original songs, but for the duration of the show that I witnessed, there was nothing but covers; Tom Petty, Sublime, Grateful Dead, and Ben Harper among them. However, as mentioned, I would not suffice my own necessity of expatiation to tell someone that Johnny Tsunami and The Shoulder Hoppers are a cover band, even though all they play are covers. This is because the studio editions of the songs they play are edited, composed, mastered, and condensed into easily digestible doses for the commuter in their car, or the casual listener relaxing with friends and a boombox. Tsunami, however, are bards of spectacle, bards of presence and appeasement. They take a song they know and love, learn the rhythm, the lyrics too, and then… that’s it. Just play it. Jam on it. Extend it to fourteen minutes if need be, whatever keeps the crowd engaged, whatever keeps them dancing or smiling or generally staying about and tolerating the atmosphere. Johnny Tsunami put themselves on this Earth not to display and express themselves from deep within, and not to tour and sell albums. They are here to entertain, to make you happy, to make you feel welcome. This is not entirely for wont of altruism. “We can’t go on tour, we can’t make the time to practice our own music, cause we’re old men!” Royster says, excepting Kroeze, who is “twenty-eight, I think.” He continues, “We all have day-jobs, we all have families. We don’t have time to write and practice original songs like all the younger bands around here - the ones who are trying to make it, who don’t do anything but work on their own material.” However, the wisdom of these Monterey staples, all native to the sand and silt atop which they perform, achieves them fruition far more frequently than the youthful ambitions of their contemporaries. Among them, Mental Musk, DZR, Valley Soul - all bands who are riding what Royster called ‘The Coffee Tour,’ and subsequently, all candidates for success so driven that they might make way for San Jose or Oakland or, God forbid, Los Angeles. “We don’t go on big tours and gig all over the state or the country or wherever… For bands like us, for most bands, really, there’s two tours: there’s the Tavern Tour, and there’s the Benefit Tour.”
The explanation offered by this bassist epitomized music scenes everywhere. To paraphrase, Royster paid mention to numerous other styles of localized shows, but he only elaborated upon those which drew profit. So this excludes “...bald dudes in black leather beating each other up in a small room to screaming,” as he described the punk shows of which Allan daydreams. The tavern tour and the benefit tour are both confined to their respective locale, and they often overlap, as with Armin’s show. Tavern tours do not pay a cover, as the band organizes a standard wage for their gigs, and the business uses the band to attract guests who would drop all their money on the bartender. Benefit tours come after the tavern tour fizzles away. Thus, the benefits of paying a staple figure’s rent, or raising money for leukemia research, become encouragement to endure the same performance again, or to catch a new spectacle and a fresh experience. Then, of course, is the Coffee Tour, where younger bands get together and attempt to draw their respective posses into cafés, covered by a set ticket price at the door. This is effective only because no one wants to buy coffee at nighttime anyway, many among the audience are underage, and because multiple bands can suffice from each other's profits. That is not a compromise that ordinarily befits the wisdoms of Johnny Tsunami.
Atop all these local tours, Johnny Tsunami manages to thrive. The formula is scripture to them. The law of tours leads them to new gigs and steady profit, and the shows that ensue lead them to the meticulous process of working the crowd, for which these men have exceptional talent. “If everyone is all drunk and ready to have a good time, we might wanna play a dance song to get them going, so we look at the list of the fifty damn songs… and choose one. If they don't vibe with that, we can play a slower song, and everyone can just relax and talk, and we’ll work our way up, get em ready for a dance song.” Royster explained to me the science of his humble industry with the efficacy I would demand of any schoolteacher such as himself -  and I must say, I was enlightened thereafter by his cohesive comprehension of such operations as the arbitrary prolificity of pleasurable noise. They demonstrated this method too, days before it's articulation. I paid witness as they massaged the saloon wherever the knots were tight, wherever the acid was pent. People began to move when they beckoned movement, and people began to chill out when the music chilled.  It was connective. And as for Armin, I don't know if his arm feels any better after the performance, but he sure as hell knew where he belonged, knew the legacy that was perpetuated in his name, and the tiny piece of history that it forever ingrained upon the minds of his guests.

Thanks for reading more of my drivel, everyone, and if you want to embrace the real talents that made possible this posting, check out Johnny Tsunami and The Shoulder Hoppers on Facebook, as they have new shows all the time! And if you aren't a pussy, you'll also embrace the spirit of rock n roll and check out Mental Musk on their own Facebook, or on their Instagram. If that really isn't your thing though, then Yvan's solo work is the introspective lullaby you might need, so check him out too on Facebook. And if you want to honor the man who originally created this blog, check out KAE9mm on Facebook and listen to his savage fucking bars on Soundcloud.

If for some reason you'd like to get in touch with me, shoot an e-mail over to widmer.wyatt@gmail.com and I'll get right back to ya.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

"Songs Hotbox Harry Taught Us" Salvages the Sanctity of Monterey Music.

Tourists and travellers around these parts don’t usually know just how peculiar a place it is in which they are vacationing. However, even with all the Seuss trees and the ear-ringing quiet of nighttime, a peculiar place I would never deem this, if it lacked the characters whose stories, philosophies, and demeanors enrich the town so. As the valley downriver is made fertile by the highland silts, so too are the towns on this bay made fertile by the folks who make here their homes, many of whom are natives, destined for peculiarity, and many more are expats like myself, seeking the right solution of misfits in which to make their impression. While the Salinas river seems of most aid to artichokes and wine grapes, Monterey’s sweeping currents do well supporting a lively music scene, even if artichokes get old after a while. It was for my weariness of these proverbial artichokes that I reached blindly into the sod and began groping about. Whatever I clutched effused with aromas of pine-blood and whiskey and was woodburnt onto a hunk of gnarly wood, salted by seawind. If you could not know my joy, reader, to have found this enchanting relic in my own town of residency, I should let you imagine my spinning about the heel, holding the plaque up high, until the quivering green of the wood behind me, the blending blue of the seasky after me, distorted into one. Even during my tenure here yet far, I have witnessed a few bands rise and a few fall. Bands do not last long around here, but recently I’ve begun to wonder if the youth of our scene’s constituents has let fester a lack a patience for a wound’s healing - and so we lose artists like Glass House, and The Shigs, for more recent examples. Four years is a very long time. Even so, all us locals have seen that the oldest of the pines about are covered in scars, their vicinity often littered with the carcasses of their kin. Natural selection, I suppose - it tends to favor the adaptable. This adaptability, however, did not truly manifest as a driftwood plaque, or a pine tree, but in a dilapidated package that contained the Songs Hotbox Harry Taught Us.
“He is real,” says a man who looks the younger half-brother of Adam Sandler (and is apparently happier with his career path). Mike Scutari, is this one’s name. He plays rhythm on an acoustic guitar and sings most of the male vocals, and though has performed with his bandmates in other projects, is attributed as the harbinger of the Songs Hotbox Harry Taught Us. Although, he did not create any of the songs played by the bluegrass ensemble. That was Hotbox Harry, who, according to legend, delivered this namesake in a paper package that appeared dug from the grave. “He was a sorta mystical old hobo-storyteller type. Ya know the kind. Walks around everywhere, talks a lot, sings to himself,” a sickle grin cut across his cheeks and drew low his brow, the bard still guitar-clad and onstage of the aptly named Barmel, in Carmel. Expressions can remain distinct even on the most distinct of faces, as Mike has been blessed with both, and this grin, juxtaposed to the toothy smirk I returned his way, assured me that I certainly knew the type. Peculiar people grow well in Monterey, but Mike instilled in me the desire to see what botany blossoms in societies such as Arcata, California, in Humboldt County. It was here, upon a seedy tavern barstool, that sat a man, “...with an enormous beer-belly, overalls, a big Santa beard - the whole getup. He n I sat at some bar in Arcata, shared stories, then started sharing songs. I was there listening to him and just couldn’t stop thinking, He’s damn good at writing those.” He sure was, but they parted away and left nothing to each other but addresses and fond memories. After three years, wherein the transient old friar was but his own memoriam, a parcel arrived in Mike’s mailbox, addressed from Hotbox Harry (presumably under a more official pseudonym, but this was not clarified), and it contained a mixtape of the mystic’s many tunes. Thus was Mike inspired to the creation of a new band, and none might receive their deserved justice if he had not bestowed upon his homage the apt name of Songs Hotbox Harry Taught Us.
“Elliot’s playing bass tonight,” said Yvan on a humid dusk as I entered his lair. “I was gonna go check him out tonight, at Barmel, but I’ll come see Valley Soul real quick.” And with this I was rather content. I love Valley Soul. I had seen them on several previous occasions in environments more suitable to their energy, but for this performance, they dampened their attack and slowed their tempo and played a show more appropriate to a natural-history museum whiskey-tasting. Perhaps destiny thought it funny that I should go to a whiskey-tasting in Pacific Grove where played a band that seems to me of the sort who’d be more partial to a toke, while Hotbox Harry would have better befit the tone. Instead, I stole myself away, mind in a medley of a thousand-something taxidermied songbirds and wildflowers, and migrated to Barmel with Yvan. This joint is one to which I yearn I might return more often. No larger than a middle-school classroom, it is not scarcely packed like canned cream corn (I hope that shit died with Boston Market’s popularity) by a manifold of audiences, no matter the music present. The ambience is purposefully seedy, salvaged together with an eye keen to the candid, the stage small and sandwiching a dancefloor between itself and the dark seating area. Obscure vinyls line the ceiling, a mannequin leg is nailed to the gable by an inoperable jukebox. It is not exactly a remarkable feat to muster quite infectious a motion and emotion alike amongst the drunken patronage at Barmel, but I have never seen a crowd around here so brilliant with smiles and so diverse with its dancers. A decent indication that a band deserves its attention is when all the folks who don’t (or shouldn’t) dance, go on a-dancing anyway. Then I turned round the speakers and saw my friend Elliot deeply indentured to his groove, and he greeted his bandmate and I with a thrust of his chin and a bite of his lip.
On his left flank hunched his father in much the same posture as junior renders his instruments. Tracy Cheseborough, is this mountainman. A weathered, houndish face sits on shoulders bony and broad, his arms and legs long, his torso clad with the attire John Muir would have worn to track cinnamon-haired bears in the Sierras with nothing but a dog as his weapon. Tracy “climbs a lotta trees,” as Elliot says - in other words, he’s a forester, with a fortuitous fervor of nature from where he doubtlessly adopts much musical influence. Tracy is also a divinely talented multi-instrumentalist, boasting proficiency on three primary instruments: cello, as I had first witnessed him play with another ensemble - electric guitar which he tickles and strokes in more the manner of flow that a piano player might exhibit, as his long fingers slid up, down, and side-to-side of his guitar neck, letting wail his instrument like a Missouri bluesman does his voice upon arrival in the Harlem Avenue Lounge - and mandolin, which I’ve not had the pleasure to witness as a fellow mandolinist. A distinct, delicate style of bluegrass he renders of his guitar, heavy with country influence and a hint of folksy melancholy - likely a derivative of his time in an Irish folk band. Upon meeting Tracy, I was graced to a simple introduction. The firmest handshake I could give was squandered by his grip. Sensible, for I suppose the man had spent many miserable hours holding onto cypress roots as the mud fell from beneath his Big Sur home. Or he climbs a shitton o trees. His words were few, his voice was worn and rickety, his glare was indecipherable, and I loved it, and was almost sated of the need to converse with him.
To Elliot’s right was one of an uncounted collection of temporary drummers. Stevie Hegger, on my first visit, who is regarded as one of Monterey’s most technically talented musicians, and indeed he was shrewd among a jam session just as well. Then there was their lapsteel player named Nick, who, though not the usual pedalsteel player (named Howe), meditated over his instrument as he found empathy in its strings with which he flowed carelessly through each song. There too was a second electrical guitarist on my first visit, named Jaimason, whose style bordered more along the bluesy jurisdictions of rock and roll. Defiant, one might think, but, despite the warmness with which Hotbox receives its audience, they are a definitively defiant band, by my account. By Tara’s, however, the band’s female singer, they’ve remained quite loyal in their musical stylings. To what? To whom? Why, to Hotbox Harry, of course, granted, as Tara said, “Now that Hotbox has been together so long, I think we take more poetic justice with songs and our style to them.” Although, “Everything on our album is Hotbox Harry’s.”
Tara is another story worthy of some recount. I needed not the chance to converse with her to know this, for a woman so reminiscent of my mother (who herself was an estranged eclectic that sang like a cement-sea siren for an old-fashioned blues band in Chicago) ought to bear some wisdom, something else that deserves expression to those whom are graced to hear her voice. I saw a comfort lining the earnest in her eyes, and that earnest was only byproduct to the sounds she sang. Amidst her direction, executed with flicking wrists, finger gestures, mouthing phrases and reinforcing them by her brow and her gaze, all mid-verse, she is rife with emotive power. Despite their repertoire of original work comprised by Harry’s fun-filled Americana, both performances I saw by Hotbox were littered with impromptu and unpracticed jams, some blues, some Irish traditional, some surf, some rock and roll, and all the while that this eccentricity was weaved into a drunken crowd, Tara enunciated her lyrics not only by tone of her robust and silky voice, but by the bend in her brow, the grade of her grin, the whimsy in her swaying waist, and the ample employment of her arms to communicate with the onlookers and performers, even when the hollers of the intoxicated masses drowned the monitor’s aid. As with any wonderful voice, I obligatorily approached Tara after their performance without greeting, only asking, “What music were you trained in singing first?” It seemed fitting, for I could truly not discern from where her influence was most heavily derived.
A sharp, Irish looking face cradled in curly red hair and freckles around two emerald eyes, which peeled wide at me with clarification. “Well, I don’t have any training.”
In that moment it occurred to me that her eclecticism was most likely the byproduct of as much. All technical aspects of her singing were solid as brick, but the emotions, even if not of her own lyrics, were the mortar she laid between these bricks. “Self-trained, then?”
“If you can call it that,” she said, looking back at the band. “Well, I was in a choir for a bit, like a church choir, but that’s an ancient story.” Those eyes rolled around and she swatted this history away and off her breath.
“I see. That’s actually why I approached ya, cause, just like yer singin, that’s similar to what my Ma did,” and I explained, in brief, my familiar affinity for her style. My mother was too in a church choir for much of her life, despite her musical passions residing as comfortably in Iron Maiden as they did in Nichiren Buddhist chants.
The kicker came, however, when she said, “I’ve sung Irish folk music for a while, too,” and I crossed my arms in satisfaction and smiled, because folk music from the British Isles and Scandinavia is the SHIT and you can fuck off if that’s funny.
“Oh yeah, I can hear it, I can! That’s fantastic.” A moment’s exhaustion of nerdisms.
Tara later recounted to me a journey that, a decade before, took her from the choir in a town called Plainfield (I know it supposedly was near a field, or a plain, as in a prairie, or a meadow, but what kind of bored asshole names a town Plainfield?) in New Jersey, to New York City where she attended grad school. Harbored in Brooklyn, she often daydreamt on a National Geographic spread that depicted Big Sur, where her roommate was eventually sent for work. Tara came to visit, fell in love with Big Sur for the second time (firstly in the magazine spread), and decided she would return. Upon finishing her education, she came out west in a manner thankfully much unlike what Tom Waits claimed it, settling with her boyfriend, now husband, ultimately at Notley’s Landing by Palo Colorado Canyon. No, I don’t know where she got the money to do this, but I seethe with jealousy anyway. A decade has passed since, and in that time, she joined Tracy to sing for the Big Sur Family Band (of whom there seems to be paltry memoriam on the internet), and they two moved onto Irish traditional music with Mike, followed by Hotbox Harry upon its inception by Harry and Mike’s graciousness. I still often see Tara and her retinue of equally Irish-looking husband and child indulging their freetime throughout Pacific Grove.
The second guest drummer I saw on the stool was a man from New Zealand named Sean. He looked like many New Zealander’s I’ve met, with a prominent nose and an unconquerable smile peeking from between rich curls that jiggled all over his head and off of his chin as he played with such infatuation that it seemed second-nature. Watching him drum even on the same repetition was immensely pleasurable and made materialize many a grin over my cheeks. The drummer featured on Hotbox Harry’s album, I should note, is Tara’s husband David, who left the band so their child could watch the shows. Then of course is Elliot, who is a personal friend of mine and all around great guy, with an apparently hereditary comprehension of musical instruments that harnesses all the expressions of himself he may ever need make - though he is insistent that he sucks. The bassist for whom he often substitutes I’ve not seen nor met, but his name is Chris, and in his regard, Elliot says, “I’m shit. Their normal bassist is way better. I suck.” (Yeah, that’s an actual quote). I’ve talked about Elliot in a previous article or two, but here’s some things you might not have known about him: Elliot has a sitar with which he has no training but still managed to jam on it with beside my mandolin and Vucina’s guitar; Elliot was often called ‘Cheese-bro’ in school; Elliot has a fuckin sexy collection of guns, including an 1860 Colt Army revolver; also Elliot works at Julia’s restaurant in Pacific Grove, an artistic and reasonably-priced vegetarian joint that uses mostly local and wild ingredients, and where, among a host of other performers on other days, Yvan Vucina performs in his solo project every Saturday at 1 PM.
However, what you will not find at Julia’s Restaurant, or anywhere else where Mike and friends do not minstrel, or even across most of California, is bluegrass, and much less so bluegrass that harnesses the spirit that many bluegrass bands attempt until their tone is more generic than the wiry, redneck characters most of my youth would imagine upon mentioning of the genre. This is because Songs Hotbox Harry Taught Us does not operate in the bounds of bluegrass, and as far as I can tell, has no tethers to the genre beyond the fact that it was how Harry wrote his songs. They are not necessarily trying to play bluegrass, but they are trying to play music that moves them, and move they do - especially Mike and Tara and Elliot - with a fervor for the moment that appears in the countless smiles cast between each other and into the crowd like glow-rings and blunt wraps, the usual gifts thrown out at a modern show. Speaking of which, I know not if the band is truly partial to hotboxing anything, or even if they burn. What I can say surely, however, is that their soul is as strong as the aromatic vistas in the town from which they hail, and those vistas host better smells of which to be reminded than a stale dankness and bongwater, and is equally as intoxicating, so I’ve no complaints.


Thanks again for giving my piece a read, and let’s all go to a Hotbox Harry show next time we’re craving something purely Monterey, but not the same as the other shit in Monterey. You can like Songs Hotbox Harry Taught Us on Facebook, listen to a few of their tunes on Soundcloud, and buy their album on iTunes. And if you’ve any reason to get in touch with me, Y8, the author, you can e-mail me at widmer.wyatt@gmail.com.