Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Strange Things

Rain leaks from the black shadows of the stormy winter sky. The clouds have been crying for two days, leaving an aftermath of puddles throughout the Detroit parking lot in Costa Mesa. Tonight, the crowd is bundled up in the corner, each individual keeping warm amidst friends and fellow musicians; waiting for Billy, waiting for Railroad. In through the threshold, a slight left towards the active stage, and a vision of Francisco the Man appears behind a soft glow of red lighting.

Three male musicians are positioned in a triangle; two guitars and vocalists in front, golden drums in the back. Around the perimeter rests an aged organ, a second drum kit, and other various instruments. The concrete dance floor slowly begins to collect inhabitants as the trio sings of broken romances and lost dreams. Just a taste, and it’s time to wander. Francisco the Man and Billy Kernkamp exchange places, and the room slowly begins to pulse with more and more life.

Kernkamp settles center stage, drums and bass player close by. Up against the stage-right wall rests an off-white organ, now occupied by its owner. After losing his normal guitar player to a broken collarbone, Kernkamp has chosen a shaggy-haired young man to act as substitute for the foursome. Tonight the charming lead is less quirky than usual, with less humorous chatter, and a more solemn look radiating from his dark eyes. The tender twang of an acoustic guitar leads the songs of heartbreak and gentle despair. Despite this, a hint of playfulness slips from Kernkamp’s lips. “Thanks to Francisco the Man, who gave me a boner this big,” he says, raising his pointed hands shoulder-width to indicate the size.

A thick fog begins to permeate from the stage and bleed through the venue, attracting prey to the dance floor. Darkness now hides the four members of Railroad to Alaska. Deep ruby light saturates the figures and every piece of equipment on stage. Then an explosion of sound and flashing colored bulbs overwhelm. In an instant, the four young men have stolen the attention of the audience with powerful orchestrations meant to melt faces and destroy eardrums. Aside the demented guitar riffs are sharp lyrics that claim, “Theeerre arrre violent sentences, I have not written, but the less I count my arrows, the moooorrre I realize, there are better ways to destroy the sun.” The crowd swims in smoke and gathers toward the spectacle, mesmerized.

A brief pause, and the shaggy-haired guitar player from Kernkamp’s set is summoned to the stage once again, and centers himself between the two lead guitars. Transition to blue lights and a down-tempo composition. An artillery of guitarists line the Detroit stage now. Each work their fingers up the neck of their own instrument, releasing a collection of haunting riffs. They feed off of each other’s twisted melodies. Stage right, the guitarist with a dark fro and electric demeanor begins soloing, shaking notes from his quick fingertips. He passes the spark to his left. The guest beside him picks up the torch and continues. Energy is not emitted from his personal movement. Instead, it is funneled into the strings from rapid fingertips, scratched into his pickup, and blasted violently from speakers. The transition continues towards the lead member of this disturbed trio of soloists. Restless eyes flair amongst the frame of thick-knotted curls of hair as the lead macerates the neck of his Gibson. He is the most vicious to his guitar, forcing contorted riffs that creep uneasy into the soul.

Turning his back to the crowd, the lead singer sets his guitar aside, then returns center stage to release the mic from it’s resting place. He invites a friend from the audience to come occupy the empty pair of bass drums located to the right of the drummer. At first, the band plays muddled, taking time to find a rhythm, then one, two, three, four… A heavy boom-boom-boom-boom builds from the back of the stage as each sound aligns, and explodes over the mass of bouncing bodies. The man with the mic inches his way to the edge of the stage, hovering over the crowd. A demented voice creeps from the speakers. A distorted face claims there are, “oth-er ways, oth-er ways, oth-er ways, other ways to live.” Lights flicker vigorously as all focus is directed to the additional drummer, soloing with forceful arms flailing in rapid succession.

Smoke settles and flashing light cease. As the dementia finally begins to wear off, the crowd slowly creeps their way back towards the smoking patio, back to the depths of the dark sky that rain brings. Misty clouds of silver are shifting, finally dissipating from over the neighborhood. And though the storm has begun to lift, the chill remains; forever to torment the dark souls surrounding Detroit tonight.

Fight Night with Pistolero and Friends

Highway patrol, police units; they are roaming in packs tonight, taking down anyone they can in sight, trying to make their Christmas quota to receive their bonuses. Alcohol checkpoints are set up all over the county, including right down the street from La Cave in Costa Mesa. Take the back roads, lay low, and finally take a space in the steakhouse parking lot. The crowd is mixed at the show tonight. Techno DJ’s, a metal band, and a surf punk group will serve as the combination for the perfect storm in the red cave on this warm December night.

Downstairs, the bar is full with replicas of dudes and the chicks that orbit around them. On the dance floor, youth are treated to a feast of house and techno beats. Neon red and green lights are on the ceiling, spinning, dancing, whirling in patterns. Security is short tonight with no one to man the back door. Out on the smoking patio, a crowd begins to gather. A police car circles the parking lot, searching for mischief and drug paraphernalia.

Pistolero is still waiting, waiting, waiting to drag their equipment down below. But the trance party continues. The stage is slowly cleared and reset. Both DJ’s linger, leaving their soundboard for the metal band to plug into for the show. One DJ begins leaning on an amplifier, still dawdling with a smirk. This sparks heated words between Pistolero members and the DJ’s, and chests begin to puff in defense.

An uneasy vibe floats over the swarming crowd as Pistolero finally takes stage. The five members begin to feed off the electric energy that emanates from the sweaty, intoxicated youth who have now huddled before the small corner stage. A deep bass line bumps from the speakers. A warning, a preparation for battle. Nowhere to escape, nowhere to run. The bass line drops, a humming silence, then screaming vocals cut through the air, “Live for tomorrow like there’s no today, death is the reason that you have to praaaaayyyy!!!” The reckless moshing begins and the crowd is set ablaze. In the depths, the DJ creeps towards the soundboard to pick a fight.

Before he can reach his destination, the DJ is blocked by the Pistolero entourage. Frustrated in his attempts, the miscreant takes a swing at the nearest member. The young man being attacked returns the hostility and drops the aggressor to the floor. From the stage, a guitar player joins in, flying from his position, sending the sole of his boot straight towards the chest of the DJ.

The masses react and begin tearing themselves apart from the inside-out. Glass shatters on the wooden stage. But the classic metal never stops. The four mobile members line the front of the platform, chests full to the audience, ready to fight. The lead singer reassures the crowd, “I’m gonna rape every last one of you…” Hands pull the lead deep into the black hole as he continues to scream demented lyrics. He throws an instigator aside into a dark wooden cocktail table. Again boots fly into the crowd. The guitar player grabs the vocalist and drags him back to stage. The lead guitarist looms nearby, ready to fight, but never missing an earsplitting solo. The bass player constantly curses towards the adolescents, veins bulging from his screaming neck. The drummer, tucked away in the corner now adorns a deer mask. Despite the obstructions, he continues every time change, every beat, every transition with ease.

Then it’s over. As the security guy crosses through the threshold, the battle ceases. Amidst all the damage, the DJ’s are nowhere to be found. A few decide to make a run for it, clearing some room for movement on the dance floor. Despite the disorder, the band remains on stage, pulsing with heavy Sabbath-like guitar riffs. Destruction is the theme, and there’s no slowing down at this point. As the set finishes, Pistolero still twitches with electric testosterone. The crowd has finally calmed, and the instigators have made their apologies. Everything is finally settled.

Until a young hooligan sprints past the front-door bouncer. He checks a chick into a wall as he hurries down the stairs. Into another female near the bar. Boyfriends begin to take notice, and are prepared to team up for a fight. Glass begins to fly and shatter through the hallways. Strong hands collectively imprison the flailing young man, and force him into the elevator for a good beat-down. Through the smoking patio and into the parking lot. The boyfriends are having their fun, pummeling the miscreant. Someone calls the police, and as two fire-trucks, an ambulance and four cop cars enter the scene, the fight dissipates. Just another night with Pistolero. Just another evening at La Cave.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Spreading the Seed: The Transfiguration of eVocal

Enter through the back gate, and funnel into the small bubble of the eVocal courtyard.  The back of the lot remains corned off by a handmade bar where food and drink is being served.  Moving towards the outdoor stage, a large mural of spray paint catches the eye.  A list of nicknames adorns the corner of the painting.  To any outsider, they are just a few random characters.  But to the Family, they are the nicknames of the crew that makes the survival of eVocal possible. 

Walk inside the venue and enjoy the music that is spilling through the doorway this evening.  Take the time to admire the local artwork that rests peacefully on the wooden walls.   Meander to the front of the shop to browse through the clothing, jewelry, furniture, and a few smaller pieces of artwork.  See familiar faces, community musicians, and others driven by the need to experience a creative environment.

This was the normal setting at eVocal until July 2009 when the shop closed the doors and faded away.  But the disappearance was merely temporary, as eVocal is more than just a business stuck to one location.  eVocal is a Family of artists working rapidly to fuel the progression of community artwork in Orange County.

During my college years is the time when I first noticed hints of eVocal.  Working around Newport Beach and regularly checking the OC Weekly introduced the idea of the Costa Mesa-based business.  It brushed through the mind as a place for artists, for music, for a local scene.  But there were many aspects of eVocal that I could not fully grasp; always picturing an ambiguous business walking around Orange County wearing many different hats.  There was open Mic night, local concerts, an art gallery, a clothing and craft store, as well as local event promotion.  As college continued, this vague entity was never fully realized, I became too distracted to visit, and thoughts of experiencing eVocal left my head.

            A few years later, I found myself in Huntington Beach.  Working at a surf shop for over a year introduced me to the scenster kids.  Every weekend they liked to throw their cash away on getting wasted and boogying down to electro music at local venues like La Cave and Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa.  One little spot in particular, named Avalon, was a hole in the wall bar right next door to eVocal.  Wednesday nights provided an excellent scenster dance party, but I started to notice the activity going on next door at the quaint hangout spot.

            My roommate and I began to check for shows at eVocal.  The venue always hosted 18-and-over shows, always featured local musicians, and always had the walls dripping with pieces from local artists.  A warm vibe of acceptance and genuine passion radiated from the part-venue, part-store, part-art-gallery.  Eventually we made friends with musicians in the area, and began frequenting shows there on a regular basis.

            However, just as I began to absorb the idea of eVocal, the final Open Mic night occurred, the last show was played, and the doors were closed.  Just as many other businesses had fallen victim to the supposed Recession, so had eVocal. 

Despite the setback, eVocal remains a translucent entity that is not known for doing one task, but a whole multitude of them. To be a part of eVocal is simple.  Every honest person is accepted with open arms.  To be part of the “Family” is another story.  Just outside the base of the business are a handful of closely-knit members who specialize in a range of artistic abilities ranging from advertising, to screen printing, to graphic design.  Brett Walker is the hard-working head of the “Evocalism” movement, and also the cornerstone of the Family.  When it came time to shut the doors of the Costa Mesa shop, a small piece of eVocal disappeared, but the Family still remained.  From there, a new opportunity arose.  The Camp.

            Down the road from South Coast Plaza and across the street from the anti-mall, The Lab, is a relatively new shopping complex simply named The Camp.  A green, eco-friendly lifestyle is the focus of the modest collection of stores and eateries.  In the center is the Seed: People’s Market.  After floating like a soul without a body for a few months, eVocal finally settled here.  In the People’s Market, a shopper will solely find environmentally safe products and gifts that are made locally.  Many of the pieces are hand-crafted, and made with extreme attention to design and detail. 

            Next door to the store is the Gallery.  During the Fall of 2009, the doors were opened wide for the artists of eVocal to make the space their own.  Currently, barren walls are slowly filling with artwork from such seasoned artists as Warren Heard, Jesse Miller, and Theo Hetherington.  Swing by any sunny afternoon and find Walker in the back room designing clothing, while Miller instructs a stain-glass class in the bright main room. 

Bits and pieces belonging to the eVocal of the old days continue to emerge at the Seed and Gallery.  The roots of eVocal have been implanted into a new soil, and into an environment that will allow the Family of eVocal to continue to spread the creative seeds of inspiration throughout the population of artists in Orange County.  The Vocalism Movement lives on within the Family, and will continue to morph, evolve and survive into the future.  Say goodbye to the old, and become a part of the new.  eVocal has not left.  Rather, it is waiting for you right down the street.  Join the movement.