Ex-Mars Volta frontmen find new sounds

Former Mars Volta frontmen Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Cedric Bixler Zavala

Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala were the masterminds behind The Mars Volta. The band broke up in January and two have formed new groups: Bosnian Rainbow and Zavalaz.

The Mars Volta broke up in January. And considering the last few albums, it’s probably for the best.

For a while, nothing beat the psychedelic, Spanish-tinged prog-rock. In high school, I couldn’t get enough of De-Loused in the Comatorium or Frances the Mute. I remember driving right past my house on a summer night, Volta blasting through my ’88 Acura speakers, not allowing myself to go home until I got through the few acts of Cassandra Gemini.

Led by the high-pitched Cedric Bixler Zavala and guitar virtuoso Omar Rodriguez Lopez, The Mars Volta split earlier this year when Omar wanted to tour and spend all of his time on a new band, Bosnian Rainbows.

Cedric and Omar have gone their separate ways for now, and Omar brings his incredible musicianship and absolute shredding to more low key, dark and beautiful music. Combined with the vocal talents of Terri Gender Bender, ex-Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks and keyboardist Nicci Kasper, they create a sound described as ethereal, yet direct.

The closest music that fits the description is Bat for Lashes, another band that features lush synthesizers, female vocals and layer after layer of atmospheric soundscape.

Cedric has gone his own way too, starting up a new band that couldn’t sound more different. He’s brought along the former Mars Volta bassist Juan Alderete to create a more groove-worthy, classic rock sound.

Ironically, both bands recently toured San Francisco within a week of each other. Zavalaz played Cafe Du Nord on June 21st and Bosnian Rainbows headlined a show at the Great American Music Hall last night, June 28.

I was lucky enough to catch Bosnian Rainbows live last night at the Great American Music Hall, for the second time in a handful of months (the first at The New Parish in Oakland). Lopez’s rapid-fire fingers and deep guitar grooves make him a performer that cannot be missed.

In Bosnian Rainbows, he plays the role of teammate and band member much more than band leader, likely because of the collaborative nature he has mentioned about this group. Omar was basically director of Mars Volta, which tended to mean dictator. The shredding takes a back seat, but is still prominent, and Lopez even lends his voice to a few tracks, something he never did live with the Volta.

Zavalaz, at least on the surface, is the weaker of the two. Cedric is talented, and his omnipresent whines and wild lyrics that thread in and out of Spanish and English lend better to a concept band like The Mars Volta than a straight rock outfit like Zavalaz. I’m eager to see the direction this band goes and whether the sum of the Volta parts is, or is not, greater than the whole.

Stream the entire Bosnian Rainbows on Bandcamp and stay tuned for recordings and more tour dates from Zavalaz.

Kay Kay does No Diggity + more dance favorites

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Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground, a Seattle-based indie outfit birthed from members of the previously defunct Gatsby’s American Dream have been releasing a live digital album of covers. It’s called “Experimeducation” and features dancy, jazzy, multi-instrumental interpretations of ’80s and ’90s favorites like Hall and Oates, Mary J. Blige and Blackstreet. The band continues to add new tracks every chance they get and promise 12 in total:

– DARYL HALL AND JOHN OATES
– MARY J. BLIGE
– JANET JACKSON
– EVELYN “CHAMPAGNE” KING
– BLACKSTREET
– NU SHOOZ
– NEXT
– DAZZ BAND
– KENI BURKE
– TEENA MARIE
– SHEILA E.
– BOBBY BROWN

FAVORITE SO FAR:

“No Diggity featuring Katie Kate”

WHY?

A classic ’90s favorite, the original “No Diggity” was recorded by Blackstreet and featured Dr. Dre. It’s a classic R&B jam and is catchy to begin with. Kay Kay keeps its rendition as smooth jammin’ as ever, complete with snaps, claps, and horns. I can almost feel the freak dancing—er, grinding. (Can you say “Hey oh hey oh hey oh hey ohhh!”)

Katie Kate, an unsigned Seattle badass/wise-ass hip-hopper, has some slick laptop jams and a name fit for a Kay Kay collaboration. She rocks the rap interlude originally done by Dre with more flavor than Flava Flav.

kay kay

Pre-Coachella Party: !!! + Zechs Marquise @ Detroit Bar

Nic Offer of !!! likes to dance

Marcel Rodriguez Lopez and Marfred Rodriguez Lopez of Zechs Marquise chop it up at Detroit Bar

The two bands playing Costs Mesa’s intimate, chic-grunge Detroit Bar Thursday night were big. Too big.

Too big for the stage they took, in sheer size, sound and force. Big enough to play Coachella too, to thousands of screaming fans. But on the Thursday night before Coachella weekend, I caught these two astounding bands up close…and for a lot less money.

The night started with instrumental mind-melting jams from Zechs Marquise, the buzzworthy El Paso, Texas prog-rock outfit that not only sounds like The Mars Volta’s little brother, but actually includes three of them. Marfred, Marcel and Rikardo Rodriguez-Lopez play bass, drums and keys respectively, and happen to be the younger siblings of infamous Mars Volta guitarists Omar Rodriguez Lopez. (Drummer Marcel Rodriguez Lopez plays in the Omar Rodriguez Lopez Group).

I discovered these guys when they opened for friends and Sargent House labelmates RX Bandits at The Glasshouse in Pomona a few months back. And while I was blown away then, Thursday’s set was insane. Grooving basslines meshed with frenetic guitar riffs, while Marcel was astoundingly able to keep up to constantly changing rhythms. No singing, but a great prog-rock fix when you’ve already mastered the entire Volta collection.

Next up was veteran psychedelic dance-funk !!! (pronounced Chk Chk Chk). The Sacramento-based band has been starting parties since 1996 and continues to put on an extremely energetic and fun live show. Lead singer Nic Offer handles most of the entertainment with his sexual dance moves that look a little like humping. By the second song, Offer was in the crowd singing face to face with all the fans. It was nuts.

!!! released a new album recently, entitled “Strange Weather, Isn’t It?” Standout tracks are “AM/FM”, “Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass”, and “Hollow”.

Zechs Marquise, formed in 2009, has been touring on their first full-length, “Our Delicate Stranded Nightmare.” A new record on the way. Expect your mind to be blown.

LIVE VIDEOS from both performances below:

I Am A Wild Orchid Child!

With a nod to old school favorite “Three MCs and One DJ” by the Beastie Boys, my latest musical obsession Wild Orchid Children recently released a new music video for the song “Ahead Of Us The Secret.”

It’s a front-row seat to an 11-minute-long, epic jam session that is nearly triple the length of the original video for the same song (watch that one below). I can’t help but smirk at the Seattle seven-piece’s ironic sense of primal Americana, noted by the flags, ponchos and Minnetonka-style fringe boots.

I wasn’t complaining about the first one, but they definitely cranked it up to a whole new level with this one.

This supergroup, formed from Gatsby’s American Dream, Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground and Forgive Durden, has got to be the new Sound of Animals Fighting — another epic, prog-rock super band with members from Circa Survive and RX Bandits.

Three MCs and One DJ:

Ahead Of Us The Secret (Original):


Wild Orchid Children @ Chain Reaction: dirty licks and primal Americana

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I blogged about this radically…different band in January with a full album review (rating score of awesome) and checked them out live Wednesday night at Chain Reaction in Anaheim, CA.

Featuring current members of Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground and former members of Gatsby’s American Dream and Forgive Durden, this Seattle-based band is comprised of core members Kirk Huffman (vocals and percussion), Thomas Hunter (guitar), Kyle O’Quin (keys), Andy Lum (drums), Aaron Benson (percussion and effects), and Ryan Van Wierengen (baritone guitar and percussion). Wild Orchid Children have collaborated not only for the music they make but also for the lifestyle they lead. – WOC Facebook

Perhaps it was the rain or maybe it was a school night at an all-ages venue in Orange County as opposed to Los Angeles, but Chain was shockingly empty for a group with such indie street cred.

When Wild Orchid Children came on around 10:30 pm, there was no more than 30 people in the audience at the small club.

No complaining here, as I got a front row seat. And lucky for the 30 of us, the Seattle-based seven-piece played like the place was sold out.

Porter and Benson were dressed ready to rock with bandages for their conga-drumming hands and bandanas to boot. They rounded out a three-part percussion section with Lum on the kit — a rare luxury for a band this size.

Lone guitarist Thomas Hunter stole the show, effortlessly laying down psychedelic licks matched to his own demented facial expressions.

There was no bassist to be found, but with O’Quin working two keyboards and Huffman’s bombastic vocal effects, it was hard to notice.

The wild childs have cancelled a few upcoming tour dates, but are heading back to Seattle for a handful of shows. Expect them opening for an act like the Omar Rodriguez Lopez Group anytime soon.

In the meantime, check out some raw footage from “Birth Of A Cabin” live at Chain Reaction March 23, 2011:

Girl Talk: Sounds for the ADD generation

GIRL TALK aka Gregg Gillis brought his larger-than-life dance party persona to the Pomona Fox Theater Saturday night.

And I was there for the all-night rager.

Mixing the likes of hip-hop legends like Notorious B.I.G. to teen pop melodies from Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears, Gregg Gillis and his plastic-wrapped Panasonic Toughbook can really move a crowd.

The Pittsburg native, whose hometown mayor named an official day after him, is every bit rockstar and just as much geek.

He spends hours carefully crafting his now infamous mashups, only to come on stage in a sweatshirt and headband with a laptop  as his only instrument.

And while that keeps costs low on that front, Gillis reportedly goes through three computers a year. I’ve had one computer for more than three years.

By the end of the night, Gillis has stripped down from sweatsuit to nothing but pants, with a head of long brown hair drenched in sweat due to excessive rocking out behind his computer screen (thus the plastic wrap). Well, that and the 20 fans he brings on stage to dance with him for the full hour-and-a-half long set.

But the glorified “DJ” knows how to put on a show. And if you’re one man and a laptop playing to a sold-out crowd of at least a couple thousand, you damn well should.

There were toilet paper shooters, giant balloons and blow ups, a stellar neon LED light show, plus lots and lots of confetti.

The music rarely stopped, beats thumping behind blends of the Beastie Boys to Outkast, Journey and Rhianna; changing fast enough to give your parents a seizure.

Surprisingly, for an “artist” who makes his living mixing other people’s music to make his own, he has yet to be sued.

And Gillis has used more than 300 different samples on his last two albums, “All Day” and “Feed The Animals”.

This from a former biomedical engineer who quit his day job to sell-out dance parties across the country.

Girl Talk was featured in a New York Times Magazine cover story a few months back and has been featured as one of the Times’ Nifty 50. Read more about him here and check out an interview here.

You can download Girl Talk’s latest album free HERE and see a list of all the samples used HERE.

Videos below from the performance. Enjoy!

Wild Orchid Children will blow your mind

WILD ORCHID CHILDREN spawned from the dust of the unofficial, no longer indefinite hiatus taken by early ’00s alternative/progressive rock/pop band Gatsbys American Dream.

They are one of many side projects started by Gastby members that has blossomed into far more than just a project. Or a side. The supergroup features Kirk Huffman (vocals), Kyle O’Quin (keys) and Ryan Van Wieringen (baritone guitar & percussion) from Gatsby’s American Dream, alongside three other guys rocking guitars, percussion and effects. (Wild Orchid Children doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia entry yet – it’s embedded under Side Projects within the page on Gatsby).

But let’s get to the point.

This bombastic album sounds like nothing you’ve heard before, while at the same bringing enough familiar noises and jams that associations to any modern indie/prog group are safe to make. Think Mars Volta-style mind-bending beats, with Rage Against The Machine’s Zack de La Rocha-esque vocals and Portugal. the Man instrumentation.

It’s BIG. And adventurous.

The second track, “Black Shiny FBI Shoes” clocks in a little over 18 minutes long, and a good portion of that comprises of an extended percussion jam. It’s no “Moby Dick” (Led Zeppelin) but it is damn good — changing tribal beats dance to the sound of noodling electric guitar, keeping your ears perked with curiosity about what comes next.

Kirk Huffman takes vocal duties here, but sings nothing like his normal self. He has got a very talented and unique singing style, but he throws any sense of melody out the window with Wild Orchid Children. He’s more screaming than singing, and the closest thing you could compare would be de La Rocha – if he were performing through a megaphone, that is.

Now this is no concept album like Volta’s “Frances The Mute” or Coheed and Cambria’s last four albums. It doesn’t always flow from one song to the next, like one big acid trip.

But you don’t have to be high to appreciate the talent going on here.

The sixpiece named its album after Christopher McCandless, the character played by Emile Hirsch in “Into the Wild”, who infamously begins to call himself Alexander Supertramp while living in the wilderness.

Rich with cultural references, the group takes its title very seriously…as you can see by the wilderness motif, intact with real wild animals on the album cover, according to the liner notes.

Now I must note here: this is the first album I have purchased in a really long time.

My appetite for music consumption continues to grow and I have a list of nearly 50 bands I’m slowly getting around to checking out. Normally I look for a T-shirt/CD combo deal or make my contribution to the band by paying for concert tickets.

But this was a worthwhile cost, even if I payed twice as much at Rhino Records in Claremont as I would have at Best Buy.

Take a listen at the madness that is Alexander Supertramp. I’ve embedded “Peyote Coyote”, which has apparent influence from Zeppelin to the Beach Boys, Black Keys, White Stripes and even some cowbell that reminds me of the Cypress Hill/Tom Morello song from the new Green Hornet movie, “Rise Up.” Oh and don’t forget the creep vocal effect that transforms Huffman’s voice into something from a Mars Volta song about a minute in.

Like what you hear? Gatsbys American Dream is making a comeback this year. While you wait for the new tunes, listen to Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground (featuring Huffman and O’Quin, amongst others), Search/Rescue, RedRedBlue, Keith Ledger, Zero Cool, Razia’s Shadow, Princess Dinosaur, Places and Numbers, TickTockMan, or any solo work from any of these madly prolific musical dudes.

Ratatat rocks the Fox, RX Bandits polish off third straight night at the Troubadour

Ratatat @ The Fox Theater in Pomona. Photo by Daniel Ucko.

IT was a double header concert weekend Friday and Sunday with RATATAT and RX Bandits.

AMAZING visuals from Ratatat, the electronic duo that combines video game synths with blazing guitar riffs to create a monstrous, head-bobbing sound.

There were two giant glass panels on either side of the stage, probably a good 50 feet high. Each one had a projector pointed at it from behind, creating ultra-real 3-dimensional images like a violinist and celloist dressed in Victorian-era white wigs and getup. Cue in the X-shaped neon lights on the back of the stage and add the massive pull-down screen with music videos and strange visuals being projected to match or contrast the panels.

For a band that makes completely instrumental music, the sounds are funky enough and change frequently to keep the ears tingling all night long.

RX Bandits was a completely different style concert at the Troubadour in West Hollywood.

The Troubadour has got to be my favorite venue simply because of its size. Its a tiny, divey club on the outskirts of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood and you can get so close to the bands there that you taste the sweat from stage.

RX Bandits have been a favorite of mine for a few years now, since I re-discovered them in college and realized their music style had progressed along the same line as my own tastes. No longer ska-punk, and more reggae-funk experimental prog-rock, it must have been a career milestone for the Long Beach fourpiece, celebrating their growth and indie-level success by performing their three previous albums in entirety from Friday thru Sunday.

So they played “The Resignation”, “…And The Battle Begun” and “Mandala” from front to back, side to side and kept the crowd moving, grooving and singing along.

LA Weekly put it nicely HERE in a weekend highlight.

Love these guys and love how far they’ve come.

They never put on a bad show and since interviewing them at Cal Poly Pomona a couple years ago, I still feel like I know the guys – Matt, Steve, Joe and Chris.

“Mandala”, which I reviewed HERE on its release, is RX Bandits’ most melodic and transcendental album, blending Embree’s soulful voice with flying guitar solos, smooth Rhodes keys and ever-changing rhythms.

Check out one of the awesome percussion jam-outs below:

Now have a listen to “White Lies” by RX Bandits and see what I’m talking about. Click below or on Box.net widget on the right to download the track.

NeedtoBreathe bring major label shine to Glasshouse in Pomona

NeedtoBreathe‘s performance at The Glasshouse in Pomona last Friday was startlingly impressive.

NeedtoBreathe is an alternative rock band from Seneca, South Carolina. Some might call it Christian rock, which makes sense since brothers Bear Rinehart (singer, lead guitarist) and Bo Rinehart (guiatrist, vocals) are the sons of an Assembly of God pastor.

The group has got a Midwest-style look and sound, between their cowboy boots, tight jeans and plaid Western shirts.

Frontman Bear (no known relation to Bear Grills) could best be described as the lovechild of Kid Rock and Sawyer from Lost (he’s second from left above).

He’s got the gruff, bad boy appeal with tattoos and long blonde hair and the perfect voice to match.

Rinehart’s raw voice keeps the band from sounding too clean, but the sound is perfectly polished. Live, they sound phenomenal – maybe it was the mixing or the shiny, high end equipment, or the major label support, but I was blown away by the quality.

Not that RX Bandits and The Dear Hunter weren’t awesome at The Glasshouse a couple weekends ago, but being signed to Atlantic Records apparently means a big difference.

It’s not often I catch major label acts, since I try and avoid mainstream music as much as possible (thank you top 40s, now go to hell).

But Atlantic’s been eating up some of my favorite artists recently, namely Equal Vision Records labelmates Circa Survive and Portugal. The Man.

But I’ve been singing NeedtoBreathe’s “Washed by the Water” in my head since they performed an intimate, full acoustic version to finish off their show.

Check out “Lay ‘Em Down”, “Girl Named Tennessee” and “We Could Run Away.”

Call it Christian rock if you want, but it’s just damn good. “The Outsiders” is the third and latest studio effort from this quartet, and with appearances by stomp-clap rhythms, banjo and harmonica it’s a must hear.

>>>Below, “Washed by the Water” acoustic at the Glasshouse in Pomona, April 30:

>>>Below, “Lay ‘Em Down” is one of the standout tracks of NeedtoBreathe’s new album “The Outsiders”:

Bay Area band Mata Leon emerges with fresh focus

San Francisco-based Mata León opened a growling late-night indie show at Hollywood club Boardner’s last week.

The band performed on an outdoor stage inside a smoke-filled patio while a crowd of rebellious 18-year-olds and leather-stricken twenty-somethings watched with a hint of awe.

The set was short, but the four-piece put out some serious soul in its bluesy brand of indie-rock.

Comparisons are hard to draw, but both classic and modern influences are clear in the moody, hook-driven songs.

The four Bay Area musicians – vocalist Spencer Dräger, guitarist Brian DaMert, bassist Greg Sellin and drummer Sam Totty –  have been playing together for eight years.

But until about six months ago, they were going under the name Overview.

The group started in high school, playing lunchtime and local shows before growing into a buzzworthy act that AbsolutePunk called “refreshing, refreshing, refreshing” after hearing the 2007 EP “Forty-Four Stone Tigers.”

Overview played its final show in July, and since then, the tigers have stepped back from playing every show they could get their hands on (three national tours across 43 states, according to Sellin).

Instead, they went back into the studio and found a new focus: something more simple and literal that fit the four’s San Francisco style, culture and taste.

“We laid low for four or five-months, spending every day in the studio writing and scrapping songs, deciding a new direction to go in. We got into different tastes in music, [and wanted a] fresh start,” says Sellin.

The band members, all in their mid-20s, quietly reemerged as Mata León, which means the lion killer in Portugese.

“I want to bring the love and culture from SF out,” says Sellin. “It’s like nowhere else in the world. You take it for granted a lot growing up in such a musically cultured and politically-minded place. But it’s unbelievable when you compare it to someone who spent their life growing up in Iowa.”

The new band has only a handful of tracks on Myspace, and plans to release an EP in the spring.

Sellin says Mata León’s sound isn’t the epic orchestra of sounds that Overview was.

“We’re concentrating more on a vibe of a song. Less trying to show off with complex instrumentation and just concentrate on creating a feeling, an emotion throughout a song instead of just great parts,” he told me after the Los Angeles gig.

The group hopes to do things one better this time around. Sellin says they will “pick their shots” and be more selective with performances.

Keep an eye on tour dates, as the band will be up and down the West Coast in the coming months. And if you’re checking out South by Southwest next month, you can catch Mata León on the Pabst Blue Ribbon stage.