Monday, January 30, 2017

Neck Pains of Pleasure at East Village, January 27th, 2017.

“I wanna show you this artist, I think you’ll like him. His music - it really means alot to me, like, he’s one of the most important musicians in my life…” said Yvan Vucina upon one of our first meetings, and in the subsequent four minutes, I was introduced to Nick Drake and his sound that laments through the air like the halos that surround a brilliant moon (a pink one, perhaps). This was just the day after Yvan and I had spent some hours jamming, he on guitar and myself on mandolin, to a series of complex and introspective finger-picking rhythms of his invention. This music, derived from his solo endeavors, reflected what I saw. Yvan is a tender person, a deeply pensive person, someone who seems pleasantly surprised every time a stranger approaches him kindly, or every time a compliment is thrown his way - which is often.
I have also had the comfort of knowing bassist, Elliot “Crisco” Bradford Cheseborough, as well as the drummer, Patrick “Po” Kelly. The former I know personally as a docile and present man, who would rather see to the peace and happiness of others than entertain his own griefs. The latter I know partly for his reputation of being the coolest person in all of Monterey Peninsula, and partly for his acute sense of hedonism that makes him one of the easiest folks with whom one could chill.
           So when I see Mental Musk, the old fashioned hard rock band comprised by these three talents, I am reminded of the laws that govern potential and kinetic energy.
All of them maintained their usual attitudes while I was assisting them in the setup of their three-band show at East Village Cafe in Monterey, near the corner of Washington and Pearl, on the twenty-seventh of January of this year, 2017. I had a pep talk with Yvan on the ride over. Crisco helped me in cord management and equipment arrangement. Patrick asserted that I was not to, under any circumstances, pay for my ticket to his show.
Then they mounted the stage. Three angelic-looking lads draped in long hair and clad in floral button-ups. However, rather than lulling me as angels might, what came next had mangled my body like a rabbit in a dog’s jaws. I threw my head and hair in every direction and stamped my feet and thrust my hips left and right. I screamed, I cursed. I howled and hyup’d and hayee’d until my voice was pulpy. Yvan shredded the buttery neck of his guitar like a nobleman might have stolen a peasant daughter’s virtue “It isn’t rape if you like it, bitch!” he screamed into the mic during the opening song, The Exhibitionist, but I think he was talking to his Gibson. Meanwhile, Elliot looked at his bass as an inseparable dance partner, and he swayed with it like he might have his girl in the front row had she been in his arms instead. Patrick killed it. He beat his drums like aggravated assault, and then beat them more until it was manslaughter, and then more until it was just plain mutilation. The bandmates’ eyes always looked for each other’s. This jam-sesh set was the chemical reaction of one quick glance here, one fervorous gaze there, in between the rich rivers of sound. A bloody blues riff grinds into the cymbals crashing like waves, then picks itself up again by the bootstraps and keeps going. It was not even until a middling point in the set that Yvan remembered to introduce themselves. His eyes, pale and green and surrounded by bronze skin, a button nose, all atop a tall and lithe body, stared into the crowd. “My name is Yvan,” he yelled. He introduced his mates in an homage to Bruce Buffer, “This is our bass player, Eliot… Bradford… Cheseboroooooough!!!” and that sorta thing . Patrick Kelley knocked the curtain-rod off of the window behind him, tossed it to the ground, and with eyes agape, cooly assured everyone, “That did not happen.” When the next song began - an unreleased track called, “Shack of Horrors” - Yvan regressed to violating his guitar, hunched over it with head banging. Crisco’s countenance was lustful as his fingers slipped across his music machine. His head also banged. Patrick Kelley had something on his mind that cried for expulsion, and though few can claim to know the inner workings of this percussionist, I would wager that something was certainly expelled. He also banged his head. What else can I say when three minstrels of hard, laborious, world-mocking rock and roll coasted into my life with such an incongruous gentility?
“Fuck it up!”. That’s what I said.
But Mental Musk did not just play a show, they directed one. The venue was booked for them to return from their several-month-long period of inactivity, but also to have a good fucking time. To aid in such a task, they recruited the scorching energy of local Punk/Funk/Surf fusion band, Nuclear Fuzz, plus the product of six people’s quests for harmony, the experimental rock band, Valley Soul.
Nuclear Fuzz opened the gig with a contagious groove, and they were quickly glistering with sweat and charged with motion, devoid of friction as they exhausted it all through their guitars thrashing like flags ripped apart by the wind. These men jumped around, they twisted their bodies and faces and one could tell that each song was generated from something fierce. Even the most repetitive songs, those songs with the fewest of lyrics, the easiest of progressions, were instilled with a certain degree of psychosis that billowed the forge fires of their session until it melted the steel in their sparkplugs. I had not the opportunity to engage any of the bandmembers in conversation beyond that which we might have while setting up band equipment, so I cannot articulate, with justice, what it is that makes Nuclear Fuzz such an enticing tempest. I did, however, have the pleasure of meeting their bassist, Zack Gattis, while he approached Yvan to deliver his gratitude, This one was a man with as memorable a face as was his demeanor. His features were strong, angular, like a doberman pinscher, and he behaved with a humor and an energy that somehow complimented the ravenous manner with which he made love to his bass guitar. Evan Eisner was also present before the show, and though he spoke little, I could hardly imagine what angst looked like on his pleasant, bearded face. But damn did I get a good look while he was behind the microphone. I only wonder why there are rumors abound that this acidic amalgamation is due to break up.
On the other end of Mental Musk’s performance came that of Valley Soul. California is far from my favorite place in this country, but should all of its idiosyncrasies and all of its zeal have been cooked into one medley, the resulting broth would taste like Valley Soul. Yes, that is a good thing. Very good. They possess a precise composure, although with a comforting lack of meticulousness that allows their music to be enjoyed actively or passively. It is catchy without being generic, it is reanimating while also etheric, it is light and fun while also passionate and heartfelt. On stage, they operate simultaneously as though a motherboard of musical calculation, and, alternatively, an emancipated aura of fluid sensation, and this is shown in each component of the spectacle.
The keyboardist, Adam Ingram, who carried a warm air of quietude backstage, maintained this as he moved rigidly to the music on his bench and rendered tunes from his keys like nectar from a honeysuckle. Guitarists Tommy and Joe kept about them the friendliness which they offered me before the show, and their empathetic faces were as affected with tingles and flutters as the audience was charged by their bardship. The drummer, Richard, was indentured to the beat, and for scarcely a moment did he betray this service, or disobey the ensemble, as bones do not disobey muscles. There was also Kevin Call, who, when not amusing his company with a lovable dryness and/or helping me haul amplifiers, was washing the whole act down with milky tones and wailing for the so-called “Fighter of the Nightman.” Although it was mostly with these champions that I worked or rocked throughout the night, the member of the band who opened the most insight to this cascading collective was the female singer and the dancer for the group, the demure lace that tints this band with the earthy hue I envision as I listen to their music, Kristen Gradwohl.
In compensation for my lack of personal connection with Valley Soul, Kristen kindly bestowed unto me the comprehensive tale of her life and the origin of the band that comprises what might as well be her very family. Though native to San Jose, one day, Kristen was in my own queenly homeland of Chicago, studying jazz, when a seemingly impulsive desire to carve her own stream mused her, in her words, “… to a town in Iowa where yogis, siddhas, shamans and spiritual people from all over the world go,” and from there, she, “ended up at Amma's Ashram opening in Fairfax.” Just as they command her hands to flow on stage akin to a Grateful Dead audience, the waveforms of the universe commanded that Kristen drop all which didn’t fit in her backpack, as she “… decided to travel barefoot with skateboards for a while.” When she returned to the Pacific, she was guided by her partner of the time to a duplex in Pacific Grove. Within that apartment, as though the sages and gurus in that Iowan hamlet, or the endless roads of the Midwest, or the aspens and spruces of Colorado, could not finish filling her soul with substance, she met the first lineup of the band. After some soul-searching, they decided appropriately on Valley Soul as their appellation.
Kristen’s tale continued, accounting for all the romance and torment compiled in love, in spirituality, in agony, in her philosophy of art. Although Kristen is of course not the only representative of this familial band, the story she offered sufficiently encapsulated the essence of the art in which she partook, to the say the least. If that kind of description is not enough to attract someone to a Valley Soul show, then nothing is.
Yvan and I packed up that night with assistance from the wonderful Kevin Call and Richard Tripps. We talked on the street corner about nothing at all, content to revel in each other’s revitalization incurred from a night of rocking out. My neck didn’t hurt like hell until the next day, but the memory of why my neck hurt repeated in my imagination all the night through: Nuclear Fuzz melting faces with a rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” that Ian MacKaye could appreciate; Mental Musk shredding like cheese through jams such as “Milk Toast” whose electricity toasted me to a crisp; and Valley Soul with their encore performance of “Dayman” from ‘Always Sunny’ that sent off the audience with a march in their steps and grins on their faces.
I intend to write articles in the future that further detail the fascinating lives of some of the aforementioned artists. In the meantime, lemme plug the bands I’ve been plugging for this entire piece. Thank you for reading.
Check out Mental Musk, who arranged the show and rock out like asteroids, at these links:
Check out Nuclear Fuzz, who fuck shit up and hang ten all the while, at this link:
Check out Valley Soul, who headlined the show and enchant our weak human minds, at these links:
And if you want to get in contact with me, the writer, you can e-mail me at this address:

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