WEST HOLLYWOOD, California — Alien Ant Farm steered clear of "Movies" and their well-worn version of "Smooth Criminal" at the House of Blues on Saturday, instead using a mix of obscure songs, covers and drum-centric album tracks to gently reintroduce themselves.
Drum Day L.A. — primarily a showcase for drummers, like Alien Ant Farm's Mike Cosgrove, and their equipment — was the band's first gig since recovering from a horrific European tour bus crash that nearly ended their lives in May (see "Alien Ant Farm To Make Concert Comeback After Bus Accident").
"It's kind of Mike's situation. He invited us to come play the instruments with him too, and we brought some friends from Riverside," singer Dryden Mitchell, who was seriously injured in the crash, said backstage (see "Alien Ant Farm Singer Still Recovering From Bus Accident"). "We're just gonna do some cover songs," he joked, referring to their Michael Jackson-penned hit. "You know, that's us!"
Drum Day L.A. is an annual "benefit for music and schools and stuff like that," Cosgrove explained. "It's not usually the full band ... [so] the guys coming down and playing the thing with me is really, really cool. You don't [normally] get the full band, because usually you're off the road, and there's certain circumstances ..."
"Like surgeries to attend to," bassist Tye Zamora chimed in, smiling.
There are no other shows planned for the guys, who still find the idea of stepping onto — let alone sleeping aboard — another tour bus a bit daunting. Drum Day L.A. was a coming out of sorts, yes, but one purposefully devoid of fanfare.
"We weren't trying to bill it like this is our official coming back and we're ready to hit the road," Cosgrove said. "It's not really like Alien Ant Farm trying to do a big show or anything. We've kept it as low-key as possible."
"It's a cool thing because it's getting down to the most important thing for us, which is playing music," guitarist Terry Corso weighed in. "When all the smoke settles and stuff, we're still just a drummer, a guitarist, a bassist [and a singer]."
And on Saturday, Alien Ant Farm were also a saxophone player, an acoustic guitarist, a keyboard player and a guy on bongos — the aforementioned "friends from Riverside." Looking loose and relaxed, they eased their way into the rarely aired "Rubber Mallet," "Sticks and Stones" from 2001's ANThology and two songs from their self-released 1999 Greatest Hits debut, "These Days" and "Pink Tea." After that came a new song, complete with Mitchell reading lyrics from a notebook after jokingly apologizing for the band's broken TelePrompTer.
The new track, which seemed to be addressing a girl with some serious problems, led nicely into the live favorite "Attitude." The bearded and capped Dryden, still recovering from serious back and neck injuries, understandably looked a bit stiff. But in the live setting, his smooth, wide-reaching and note-perfect voice still put the studio-induced harmonies of most melodic punk singers to shame.
A cover of Sade's "Smooth Operator" was a showcase for his talents, recalling many of the moodier passages on ANThology. After that was Zamora's chance to shine, as the six-string bass player adeptly tackled Sting's "La Belle Dame Sans Regrets," French lyrics and all.
With Drum Day L.A. behind them, Alien Ant Farm will continue to demo songs for a follow-up to ANThology. Though the new album is still officially untitled, the name Ant Jamima has been jokingly tossed around.