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Oct 31st
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Love Your Local Band

The Chop Tops

The Chop Tops

Santa Cruz psychobilly veterans The Chop Tops are in the midst of an insane 10,000 mile tour—35 shows across 20 states, in just five weeks. Having survived the East Coast earthquake, the band now finds itself driving into the keister of one of the biggest hurricanes in recent memory, Irene. Putting the “psycho” in rockabilly is nothing new for these road warriors who eschew the corporate model of rock and roll and live every day grateful for the opportunity to be independent working musicians. Stand-up guy and drummer (a la Slim Jim Phantom of The Stray Cats) Sinner started the band 16 years ago and is currently enjoying his eleventh U.S. tour.

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Features

In their Footsteps

In their Footsteps

Zimbabwean ensemble Mbira dzeMuninga honors the past, inspires the future

Remember concerts before artists teamed up with Ticketmaster and Live Nation? Mbira dzeMuninga sure does. Band members of the Zimbabwean ensemble recreate the mbira and hosho-laden music of their Shona ancestors: inhabitants of southern Mozambique and northeastern Botswana, who once performed in the most intimate and dimly lit of venues—caves.

Although no longer performing “in the cave,” as the second half of their name, “dzeMuninga,” suggests—the well-sought-after act journeyed as far as Oregon, for the 2011 Zimbabwean Music Festival, Zimfest, in August—the five gwenyambiras, or “master mbira players,” make their own instruments, wear clothes made of cheetah, goat, and cow skins combined with buckskin leather, and mesmerize audiences with their musical narratives, inspired by the experiences of their ancestors.

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Features

Little Dualities

Little Dualities

Sweden’s Little Dragon spreads its wings

During the latter stages of August, Little Dragon suffered through the kind of routing that would make even the most grizzled tour veteran groan. Playing a few record release shows in support of the brand-spanking-new Ritual Union, the Swedish foursome—coming to Big Sur’s Henry Miller Library on Tuesday, Sept. 6—made stops in Los Angeles, Brooklyn and Belgium over the span of four days.

“It was very tight scheduling, but it was also very inspiring,” says drummer Erik Bodin.

“Those shows were really for the fans,” breaks in singer Yukimi Nagano. “The tickets were really cheap, and the fans were really up for it.”

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Love Your Local Band

The Best Friends

The Best Friends

“Who threw away a perfectly good white boy?!” screams a rowdy passerby on Haight Street in San Francisco, addressing The Best Friends vocalist/guitarist, Aiden Ward. Ward yells back for a high-five. Having chopped off his shoulder-length blond locks, Ward does seem clean-cut now, but don't let his ’do fool you. Fans fall for The Best Friends’ melodic dance funk with every shout: “booty scones,” “give me back my grandma!,” “I need another drink,” and “wahahaha,” are just a few of the lyrics chanted during their concerts. Bassist Derek Burte compares the spectacle to their banner: “We have a big sign. It's been caught in the rain, run over a few times. It says The Best Friends, with two dinosaurs high-five-ing.” Sometimes on stage, when they play their song “Dinosaurs,” keyboardist Benjamin Einstein and Ward “have a dinosaur battle,” says Ward. “I imagine myself as a T-Rex,” Ward admits. “I'm more of a Velociraptor,” counters Einstein.

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Features

Living in the Shadow

Living in the Shadow

Picture Atlantic tosses ‘that band that opened for Coldplay’ title, forges own path
When asked about the time his band opened for Coldplay, Nikolaus Bartunek deflects the question with a languid, matter-of-fact, “We won this contest,” then adds, “We were one of three final contestants, and Coldplay chose us.”

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Bartunek isn’t too-cool-for-school, or feigning humility. The singer and songwriter for Picture Atlantic, a San Jose-based alt-rock outfit, is concerned that he and his band are living in the shadow of the gig.

“It was a show,” Bartunek says of the 2008 performance at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. “At the time that it happened, it was great. I'm really glad we got to play it.” Then again, he worries that when his band's name is mentioned at a party, or in a bar or coffee shop, they will simply be that band that opened for Coldplay.

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Features

By the Book

By the Book

Indie quartet Stories in Braille translates epic narratives into ambient rock

Four experimental, indie rockers of Christian faith dare you to quit judging books by their covers. Meet San Jose-based Stories in Braille: Curtis Kern (drums) and Brandon Wright (bass)—two full-time college students—Jala Tass (guitar), and college student pastor Jay Kim (vocals/lyrics/guitar). Since 2008, Stories in Braille’s page-turning tales of love, unity and valor have been articulated through meticulously crafted ambient music, into albums that are, essentially, a more entertaining version of audio books.

“That’s the idea behind the band,” says Kim. “To tell stories that people can feel.” That philosophy is reiterated on the band’s Facebook and Myspace pages, where a quote by author Jim Fiebig is prominently displayed: “There is a wonder in reading Braille that the sighted will never know: to touch words and have them touch you back.”

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Love Your Local Band

Nathan Dennen

Nathan Dennen

Like the ebb and flow of the tide, singer/songwriter Nathan Dennen keeps getting pulled back to Santa Cruz. In what he says feels like a past life, Dennen split his time between his home in Oakdale, and his grandfather’s house in Rio del Mar. Today, he lives in San Francisco, where he’s been inspired by “groovy music, with a lot more soul.” In the city, Dennen has created what he calls, a “little niche of music that I was really inspired to recreate and expand upon—taking old-timey music and giving it a modern flair.” To produce the ragtime saloon sound on his self-titled debut album, he used a piano built in the early 1900s, and even mixed the album on tape. “I would leave the little pops and buzzes in there to keep that raw sound,” he says. Focused on reviving Scott Joplin-esque northern jazz melodies first, and letting lyrics fall into place second, Dennen says he’s always surprised to get feedback from fans about his lyrics.

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Features

Southern Comfort

Southern Comfort

Mississippi-bred Paul Thorn sings of preachers, pimps, and small town America
One way to hear about the real-life effects of Capitol Hill rivalries is to read the newspaper. Or you could talk to somebody who travels to small towns for a living, entertaining the downtrodden and picking up fans along the way. Enter Paul Thorn—a Mississippi singer/songwriter who has been traversing America’s back roads for more than a decade, crafting musical stories based on the lives of the common man and pumping blood back into the heartland.

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Features

All Grown Up

All Grown Up

Indie-rap crew, Atmosphere, shows signs of evolution in sound and maturity
Upon listening to the latest effort from Minneapolis indie-rap crew Atmosphere, the word "maturity" comes to mind. And while it is arguably a fair adjective to describe the new album, The Family Sign, the group's front man, Sean Daley, doesn't like it.

"I make rap music, so 'mature' is kind of a bad word," says Daley, the MC better known as Slug. He prefers the word, “evolved.” "Ultimately, this is music for kids," he explains.

The group's sixth LP has passion, machismo and plenty of snark—only in a more grown-up kind of way. And Slug is fine with that.

"I can't freak the funk," he says. "I can't make another God Loves Ugly"—2002's ode to debauchery and depression, wherein Daley bemoans the loss of his fictional muse, Lucy Ford, while drowning in booze.

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Love Your Local Band

The Expendables

The Expendables

It’s ill-advised to get a tattoo of your lover’s name, but not the name of local reggae/ska/punk outfit, The Expendables. Despite the impermanence suggested by the moniker, many fans invested in Expendables-themed ink, long before the guys offered free tickets to the Vans Warped Tour in an online tattoo contest. Devotion to the band dates back to 1997, when guitarist Raul Bianchi, drummer Adam Patterson, bassist Ryan DeMars, and lead vocalist/guitarist Geoff Weers—now living on the same block in Pleasure Point—met in high school. Immediately, they began constructing feel-good jams about drinking (they’re sponsored by Jägermeister), smoking and partying, through optimistic and philosophical lyrics. “Positive people have a better time in life,” says Patterson. “It’s no fun being grumpy all the time. Don’t sweat the small things … there is a good side to everything, even if you don’t see it.”

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Features

A Stitch in Time

A Stitch in Time

Michael Daugherty weaves orchestral music and electric guitar in ‘Gee’s Bend’
The electric guitar is an instrument seldom heard in symphonic music, but it’s the keystone of “Gee’s Bend,” the latest musical offering from renowned Ann Arbor, Mich., composer Michael Daugherty. Electric guitar and orchestra commingle in the piece, creating a timbral and stylistic patchwork in which rock, folk and contemporary classical music converge. “Gee’s Bend” makes its west coast premiere at the Civic on Saturday, Aug. 13 as part of this year’s Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music.

Daugherty, a longtime festival favorite, found inspiration for the piece in the quilters of Gee’s Bend, Ala. One of the poorest areas of the south, Gee’s Bend is populated mainly by African American descendents of slaves from the Civil War era. The town’s residents are known for their innovative style of quilting, noted for its vivid colors and unusual patterns.

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Love Your Local Band

Jerry and the Silly Monsters

Jerry and the Silly Monsters

Although Juicy Fruit no longer wafts throughout the Westside, a sweetness still lingers about the Wrigley Building’s successor, The Digital Media Factory, thanks to Jerry and the Silly Monsters, and its delectable blend of bubbly, children’s pop-rock. “I’ve listened to a lot of bad children’s music over the years,” says lead vocalist/guitarist Toby Salciccia, otherwise known as “Jerry.” Desiring to change the genre’s reputation, Salciccia turned to his day job—co-manager of Happy Days Children’s Learning Center—for inspiration to create songs that are “positive and educational for kids, and fun for parents.” There, he befriended parent Craig Comstock, who introduced Salciccia to his future bandmates: bassist Ian Babcock (“Bob”) and drummer Scott McPherson (“Murray”) of Ribsy’s Nickel; McPherson’s daughter, Ashley (“Gigi” on stage); and vocalist/ukulele player Moreah Walker (“Gigi” in the studio). The result? Jerry and the Silly Monsters—a mix of clever, motivational lyrics and complex rock music. “We’re really starting to take on more of a family-like nature, now that we’ve had the opportunity to work [together] and know each other,” says Salciccia of their chemistry.

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Jawing

Monterey Bay scientists are working to crack the mysteries of—and dispel the myths about—great whites. But in the highly contentious world of shark experts, there’s a fin line between love and hate

 

Altars of Remembrance, Forgiveness & Rapprochement

We’re in Scorpio now—things mysterious, ageless, hidden, sometimes scary. Friday is Halloween; Saturday, All Saints Day; Sunday, All Soul’s Day. Sunday morning at 2 a.m. (after midnight), Daylight Savings Time ends. Clocks are turned back. Tuesday is the General Election. Our vote is our voice. Each vote matters. Applying freedom of choice—Libra’s teachings. It’s time to build Halloween, All Saints and All Souls altars—with marigolds, pumpkins, sugar skeletons, copal (incense), pomegranates, persimmons, candy corn and cookies, orange and black. It’s so Saturn (now in Scorpio). Saturn is the dweller on the threshold (like St. Peter at the gates of heaven). Saturn can look like a Halloween creature—a gargoyle—a fantastic dragon-like creature protecting sacred sites. The dweller (Saturn) stands at the door or threshold of sacred mysteries, wisdom temples, inner sanctums of churches, offering protection, scaring evil away. The last day of October and first two days of November, when veils between worlds thin and spirits roam about, are times of remembrance, forgiveness, reconciliation and rapprochement. These actions liberate us. At death, when reviewing our lives and the consequences of our actions if we have forgiven, then we are free, less encumbered with grief and sadness. We place forgiveness on our altars. Happy Halloween, everyone! It’s good to dress up as what we’re afraid of. Or whom we would mentor. Then we become one with them. Note to readers: by Thanksgiving I will need a place to live (with purpose). Please contact me if you know of a place where I can rest for awhile. Teach and build community. [email protected] I will be leaving my mother’s home for the last time.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Not Cool

Even Bill Murray’s hipster cred can’t elevate ‘St. Vincent’
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Alberti Vineyards

Looking for some blood-red wine for your Halloween party? Then I have a recommendation for a new brew.

 

Turning Point

New revolving restaurant on the wharf, plus Cafe Ivéta and the last great Jack cheese