ATN's very own Beth Winegarner headed north to her hometown of Sebastopol this past Friday(Nov. 26) night to check out a show featuring bands from the area. Here's her report: The sign outside the door reads, "No Drugs, No Alcohol, No Violence, No Full Frontal Nudity." Just inside the door, two lines are drawn on the right side of the door frame about three feet above the ground. The higher one reads, "high water mark, 2-18-86." The other, slightly lower than the first, reads "1-8-95."
It's the Friday after Thanksgiving and I'm at the Sebastopol Community Center in Sebastopol, California, a few miles from Les Claypool's rural home, just on the edge of flood country. Less than a year ago the floor I'm standing on was deep under water. Now, it's flooded with people waiting to see four local bands do their thing.
Allegiance to None takes the stage and, after 10 minutes of tuning their guitars, begin to play a standard kind of speed-punk; the guitars throb loudly enough that I get a headache, and their two singers, Sam Rowell and Desiree Alonzo, are so wrapped up in growling unintelligible lyrics to each other that they don't notice most of the audience has wandered outside to get some air. They tune at least twice more during the set but finally leave, giving the stage over to Fallout.
Fallout's a band of quite a different sort. At first they seem completely Primus-inspired, with Micah Stoufer's heavy, funky, dominant base lines and guitarist Matt Helman's twangy vocals and understated string work. Later, other influences emerge: Faith No More, Dream Theater, early 80's pop, and even hints of Sesame Street and the Offspring. Drummer Nate Lamar (who also drums for local punk darlings Siren) leads the band through complicated key signatures and Brian Becker, the recently-added keyboardist, adds a creative touch.
Fallout seemed to enjoy their time on-stage, flying through songs like "Perky," "Proverbial Wall," and a crowd favorite, "Sittin' In the Hot Tub," which Helman introduced as "Our mothers' favorite song." Another playful tune was "The Plant Song," perhaps popular for its innocent love of vegetation -- "If I play this song they may even dance" - - or for its application to marijuana. Most of Fallout's song titles speak for themselves, even though they're left wide open to interpretation.
Morbid Syzygy take the stage next. By contrast, this band is more serious, roaming through expansive, intellectual forays which are mainly driven by the metal-inspired guitar work of Sean Farr and Ben McLintock, Joel Gieseker's intense bass lines and the driving drum lines of Tyler Winegarner. Over it all is the lyrics and vocals of Aaron O'Connell, who growls and screams and croons through songs of love, rage, and cynicism.
Although much of Morbid Syzygy's set consisted of long, angry songs like "Baby's Legacy" and "State of the Union," which attacks MTV's hold on youth culture, other numbers included the anti-punk- snobbery "So Fucking Punk" and the jazzy, delirious "Sux Ta B U." Despite their musical variety, Morbid Syzygy had trouble holding the interest of the crowd. O'Connell remarked, "There's about 200 people here and only 80 of them are inside. The rest are outside smoking. Why is that?"
"Addiction!" the crowd roared back. The band closed their set with "Lies," a brief take on band member irresponsibility, and then allowed headliners Conspiracy to take the stage.
Conspiracy is the most popular ska band in Sonoma County, California, and from the opening notes of "Amoeba Man" it's easy to understand why. The sheer number of colorful musicians on-stage is dizzying: four horns, two percussionists, a guitarist, bassist, and singer all work together to create Conspiracy's rambunctious sound. Their music as at turns jazzy and mellow, then funky as all get-out, then almost punk but always dominated by the wild, blaring horn section. While introducing "Nothing," Dave Dietrich quipped, "I just want to tell the audience that the horns play in the beginning [of this song]. But they're not listening."
Conspiracy's repertoire included songs from their first demo and their new album, "Too Far Gone," like the anti-pollution "Her Avenger," "8-Balling," and "Circus Circus," a track which gave the feel of being in a spy movie. Their songs are always wry and reckless, sometimes pointing to political confusion like in "Nothing" -- "You can go ahead and have your revolution/ I'll stay at home and watch it on TV." By the middle of their set, the entire crowd was dancing -- pogoing, shimmying, doing what looked like a distorted version of the Charleston.
One of the best things about the Sonoma County music scene is the camaraderie that exists between bands. Some of it has to do with their high school years -- at least one member of each band at Friday's show attended backwater El Molino High, a school which also gave birth to alterna-blues band Bracket. Some of it has to do with the local Independent Arts Coalition, founded and funded by local musicians and their fans. And some of it has to do with the sense of cooperation that exists among so many talented musicians, all willing to help one another out. Friday's show was organized, operated, and manned entirely by the bands themselves. If you get a chance to see any show in this Northern California area, don't hesitate. There's a whole scene here waiting to be discovered.