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 and I'll get right back to ya.

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