San Diego was visited by an embarrassment of musical riches on this particular Tuesday night. In patchouli-soaked Ocean Beach, the cityís own beachside Haight Ashbury, Leftover Salmonís Vince Herman led his Great American Taxi side project through an evening of bluegrass-tinged, southern-fried rock.
Further up the coast at mellow Solana Beachís Belly Up Tavern, the all-star Stockholm Syndrome (SS) held a small contingent of diehard fans, curious concertgoers and casual observers willingly hostage (OK, that was too easy) with their rocket-fueled, chameleon-like mastery of musical genres that seemingly spanned across the entire rock spectrum. Dubbed a "supergroup" because of its A-list assemblage of indie-rockers, session musicians and longtime denizens of bigger bands like Widespread Panic, SS is one instance where the whole not only equals the sum of its parts, but where each part is as distinctly valuable as the whole itself.
For a school night, one could tell this show couldnít help but go late. It kicked-off with an impressive, high-octane, forty-five minute set from These United States, a fresh, talented quintet of young road warriors from Lexington, KY led by the energetic vocals of lead singer Justin Craig. It was just the sort of promising opener this crowd needed as SS hit the stage a bit later. Although this was my first live SS show, I was somewhat disappointed by the relatively small turnout, though it was a Tuesday night. Still, Iíve heard enough of SSís music to know they deserve as much recognition as they can get, which, based on this nightís powerfully aggressive performance, will surely come in due time as long as the band can continue to give itself ample attention away from their other musical projects.
After evidently switching-up the bandís stage line-up formation from previous tour gigs, the set opened with the twangy guitar riffs of "Easter" until supplanted by Jerry Josephís (the Jackmorons) scratchy, raspy vocals. His voice Ė a true gift from the indie-rock gods, and seemingly a product of decades of proverbial rock and roll hard-living Ė perfectly suits the bandís gritty sound. A fairly standard cover of the Climax Blues Bandís funky 1977 ditty "Couldnít Get It Right" followed, and it lacked some of the playful funkiness of other versions Iíve heard. Still, like a TV commercial jingle, most of the uninitiated were probably left wondering just where they heard that familiar tune before. Eric McFadden (George Clintonís P-Funk All Stars and Les Claypool) delivered lilting, Celtic-like mandolin riffs on "That Which Is Coming," which, according to my friend Erin who met me at the show, sounded like classic Peter Gabriel. Drummer Wally Ingram (Jackson Brown, Sheryl Crow) punched his drum kit into gear as McFadden switched to guitar on "Miranda," a hard-driving number that sounded like it could be straight out of Johnny Cashís classic oeuvre. McFaddenís electric mandolin, and the pounding keyboards of Danny Louis (Govít Mule and Cheap Trick), figured prominently on "White Dirt," which built to a beautiful, cathartic crescendo (and even gave a nod to good olí San Diego in its lyrics). Closing the set was "American Fork," a headbanger anchored by Widespread Panicís Dave Schoolsí bass bombs that had the crowd bobbing heads in rhythmic unison like Hessians at a Slayer show. During the set break, I was so taken by Stockholm Syndromeís infectious stylings and power that I proudly purchased my first band T-shirt, having pronounced them "T-shirt worthy."
As the clock neared midnight, the second set opened with "Lick The Tears," a reggae-and-rasta anthem, reminiscent of Sublime, that stood out as one of the crowd favorites as Josephís vocals soared into the rafters of the Belly Upís Quonset hut interior. McFadden showed off his mastery of the lead guitar on the Rush-like "Empire One," and the brooding "Apollo" not too far removed from Neil Youngís "Cortez the Killer," scored points too. The highlight for me, and a song I was particularly hoping to hear live, was "Milk," which featured ample moments of guitar genius and sounded similar to the Grateful Deadís "Fire on the Mountain." Unfortunately, "Milk" was also the showís last real chance for my friend and me to truly enjoy the music: a drunken, bearded scrap unsuccessfully attempted to steal my friendís jacket, and we pretty much missed the last two or three songs chasing him down and blocking his escape routes. After dealing with the ensuing hassle, we finally made it back to the music for the serious but hopeful ballad "Wisconsin Death Trip," the bandís approximate 1:00 am encore that sent fans into the late night air amazed at this supergroupís knack for repeatedly catching lightning in a bottle.
Donít get me wrong; Stockholm Syndromeís ability to capture the sound of other artists and bands is hardly a knock against it. Rather, itís a potent illustration of just how talented these road-tested rockers are at turning-on-a-dime and jumping across different genres and musical idioms with aplomb. Itís probably what gives this band such a welcome change of pace, keeping them as challenged and stimulated as the budding chemistry of this relatively new and unique musical association.
Set I Easter Couldnít Get It Right Emmaís Pissed That Which is Coming Miranda White Dirt American Fork
Set II Lick The Tears Empire One Apollo Milk Spy Jacobís Ladder Tight