I moved to San Diego in 1998 and started going to shows immediately. Live bands were simple to find any night of the week. These days, it’s a hair more difficult. DJs have become a more attractive option for many bar owners. But if you are in search of live music, it’s still not too difficult to track down.
There were times back in the early- to mid-2000s when I would catch three or four shows in one week, but I am certain I have never ventured out to catch live bands for seven nights straight. That’s just crazy, right? Right. Let’s add an extra night to make it extra-special crazy. Eight nights straight of live music. Let’s see how this goes.
- Night one —
- Wednesday, Oct. 9
- 710 Beach Club, Pacific Beach
- No charge
At the beginning of the live Descendents album Hallraker, lead vocalist Milo Aukerman alerts the audience that, “We’re gonna start it off a little mellow, work our way into it — catch a groove. Okay, feel it.”
I decided that was a good tack for this adventure. Night one would be a mellow outing. The idea of catching a local, grab-bag of acoustic artists was appealing.
Instead, the familiar sounds of a full rock band caught me off guard as I approached the 710 Beach Club. I asked a guy outside the venue if tonight was, in fact, an open mic night. He reassured me that it was, and that they just happened to have a full drum kit, guitar amplifiers, and bass hook-ups at the ready for those performers who chose to go that route.
The random I was speaking with outside happened to be Billy Doyle. He runs this open mic. As I settled in, he gave me the scoop about how it works. The event goes from 7 to 1 every Wednesday night. Performers get three songs or 15-minute slots. If you want to show off your prog or extended jam skills, you’re likely looking at two songs max.
They also have a featured performer who gets two slots (30 minutes) allotted to them. On this evening, that went to Devon Wylie. A smooth-voiced, local singer/guitarist, he came across as the most pro of any of the participants I caught on that evening. Doyle assisted and tapped out beats on a cajon while Wylie strummed a selection of covers that seemed to lean most heavily into the Dave Matthews/Jack Johnson spectrum. He also sprinkled in a couple grunge tunes by Pearl Jam and Bush — grunge-lite in the case of Bush.
Attendance was pretty sparse when I rolled in around 8, but as Wylie’s timeslot crept up, the place started to get packed. It wasn’t a coincidence, either. Most of the throng that filled the room just before 9 was back out into the night shortly after his set ended. There was such a mass of people there to see him that nobody seemed to mind the fact that his set went well over the designated 30-minute allowance.
Next up was Psycholizard. It often seems as if the most you can hope for out of life is the occasional pleasant surprise, and Psycholizard was that. Just a drummer and an electric guitarist, firmly into their retirement years, performing three psychedelic, garage-rock songs at an explosive, “I don’t give a shit what you think of this” level. From the opening cover of Larry Williams’ “Bony Moronie,” to their original song that detailed the history of the Psycholizard, to the final song which climaxed with repeated offerings of “I think I’m going off my medication!!!” it was all a total delight. Splendid performance.
As I watched the different participants take the stage, I began to feel a bit like a scout at a baseball game. Many of the performers were obviously new to the game, and most were still a bit rough around the edges. One woman made the mistake of inviting a drummer to play with her who obviously didn’t know the songs that she was going to be performing. She was nervous from the start, and having a drummer backing her who was constantly falling off the beat didn’t help. It was a lesson learned. She’ll be back, I thought, and likely without help that turns into a handicap.
Doyle keeps a watchful eye on his regulars as well, but for him it’s more the attentive stare of an enthusiastic coach, offering a space for potential players to work out their skills. “Honestly, I feel like that’s almost my only job,” he explained. “It’s an open mic, so I’m not coming in here to make a name for myself. I’m not here to do anything other than encourage people to come up and share their gift with others and the world.”
- Night two —
- Thursday, Oct. 10
- Casbah, Little Italy
There was no way that this adventure was going down without a stop at the Casbah. Whereas it was my intention to mix it up and insert myself into environments that were outside of my usual musical wheelhouse (see: nights three, five, six, and seven), I made sure to set up a handful of outings that I was almost guaranteed to enjoy. This evening would be one of those.
Milly started out the night with a sound that wasn’t too far removed from Swervedriver’s trademark shoegaze. One could easily mistake them for long-lost ‘90s act until you see them in person and realize they’re still in their 20s. They did all rock baggy pants, though, which is either a throwback or a fashion-forward statement at this point. It feels like it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen loose slacks on the Casbah’s stage. Their songs hint at influences beyond just shoegaze — slacker-esque indie-rock a la Pavement or even local legends Heavy Vegetable. The band was founded in Connecticut, but is now based out of Los Angeles.
After their set, my buddy Todd and I decamped to the back bar. It was a long break, so we had plenty of time to chat. We have been seeing shows here for years, so I picked his brain to find out what some of his favorites were. The White Stripes back in 2000, the Urge Overkill reunion gig that Jack Black attended, and a bill that paired X with Mike Watt all made the cut. Some of my personal faves were Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (2007), Superchunk (2018), and my all-time fave, Seattle’s Young Fresh Fellows (circa 2001). That’s just a tiny taste of the talent these walls have seen. This joint is a San Diego gem.
After a long break, it was finally time for Swervedriver. For those unfamiliar with the band, they were a moderately popular London-based alternative act from the 1990s. Their sound merged elements of shoegaze, rock, and spaghetti-western music into what seemed like a perfect formula for radio success at the time — but the general public didn’t seem to agree. They broke up in the late ‘90s, but have been playing reunion gigs since 2008. I’ve seen them a couple times at the Casbah in this time span already.
They have released two new albums in the last four years — many of those songs were performed at this gig. No surprise, the newer material is more mellow than the older songs, but they still went over just fine with all those in attendance. The classics, such as “99th Dream” and “Rave Down” got the best response, though. The lead-off song during the encores, “Sci-Flyer,” was Swervedriver at their fuzzed-out best.
Why this band is currently playing a club at half-capacity while Smashing Pumpkins headline arenas is a complete mystery to me. The average age of the attendees definitely skewed toward 40, so the reports that the millennials are abandoning guitar-based rock for DJs and laptops might just be true. It certainly feels like many of the actual-rock shows that I have seen in the past five years or so feature the same greying fanbase, with not too many young’uns joining their ranks.
- Night three —
- Friday, Oct. 11
- Space, Normal Heights
- Broken Geometry
- Soda Bar, Normal Heights
- MOANS/Auz Fontaine
The original intention for this night was to dabble in the world of electronic music. I had mapped out an event at Space called Broken Geometry that was a collaborative effort of local beat-makers, producers, and visual artists.
The venue was practically empty when I arrived around 9:30, and it remained that way when I departed about an hour later. In that time span, I sidled up to the bar, grabbed a beer, and absorbed the hypnotic beats of Ground Scorsese while simultaneously basking in the magical space-journey visuals courtesy of Captain Playdoh. It was all pretty interesting, and at times downright entrancing, but the lack of a crowd really zapped its potential. I was expecting to step into a room full of euphoric dancers, but instead found the beats minus the participants.
So I took off and headed a couple of blocks down to Soda Bar where, to my surprise, I found a room full of euphoric dancers! An eight-piece band called Moans was lighting up the stage with a boatload of funky yacht rock. I thought I would be strolling into some indie-rock and a room full of folded arms. A dance party was the last thing I expected. I ran into RC Krueger, whose band Mariel had played earlier, and he informed me that the entire bill was composed of bands whose members were all longtime friends. This explained the house party vibe.
Moans wrapped up and got an enthusiastic round of applause from a somewhat sweaty audience.
Next up was the duo Auz Fontaine, which featured the animated vocalist Captain Auzmo and his completely subdued producer Vic Fontaine. Their sound is similar to the synth-heavy ‘80s pop that Australian Alex Cameron has been churning out lately. It should also be noted that Fontaine has a knack for creating catchy beats with tasteful sonic choices. His production is clean in the best of ways. While Fontaine may have stolen the show from a sonic standpoint, all eyes were on Captain Auzmo during the performance. He’s got the smooth persona of an R&B singer churning out lyrics about gift cards and convincing people to not look at their cell phones. Quite the mix. The crowd ate it up.
- Night four —
- Saturday, Oct. 12
- Bar Pink, North Park
- Liz Fest II
- Chica Diabla/Whole Hog/The Touchies/Deathboys
Local rockers Chica Diabla were on a roll before the band ended due to the passing of lead vocalist Elizabeth Borg. To honor her memory, the remaining members have held these semi-annual Liz Fest events to celebrate her life. They get back together to play the old songs, and invite some of their friends to share the bill.
The show was a freebie, and drew a solid Saturday night crowd to Bar Pink. It didn’t seem like all randoms rolling in for the cheap cans of Tecate either. It was a very rock and roll crowd. As Stanze Touchie (of the Touchies) noted from the stage, “You guys all look great. You all have on like 50 pieces of flair.”
My wife was along for the ride, and we were lucky to secure a booth pretty early on. We were joined by a random couple in their 20s who were looking for seats. We had some interesting chats, the best of which involved the reveal that the boyfriend had no clue who Depeche Mode is. How is this possible? He went on to reveal that he had never heard of the Go-Gos or INXS either. In his defense, these bands are all 35+ years on now. But still!
Deathboys got the night going with some nice and sleazy rock with a bit of a punk edge. Not too far removed from San Diego mainstays the Dragons. Good stuff.
The Touchies were up next and threw down a great set of true, vintage pop-punk. Not so much Blink-182, but more in the vein of the Ramones and the Muffs. They covered one of the latter’s best tunes (“Lucky Guy”) and dedicated it to the main Muff herself, Kim Shattuck, who recently lost her battle with ALS.
Whole Hog rounded out the openers with a sound more akin to that of a raging bar band. Their song, “Chica Diabla,” was lifted by the headliners when they were searching for a name.
Augmented by two backing vocalists from Mittens, Chica Diabla closed out the night by performing all the songs from their one and only release. They kicked off with “Sunset Strip” — a classic, scream-along anthem. I wish that life was more kind, and that I could catch these guys playing this song multiple times a year with the original line-up still going strong. Cancer sucks.
- Night five —
- Sunday, Oct. 13,
- Brick By Brick, Linda Vista
- Bloodletting Tour
- Disentomb/Visceral Disgorge/Signs Of The Swarm/Organectomy/Mental Cruelty
The Bloodletting Tour is a traveling showcase of death metal bands, most of which are associated with the Unique Leader record label. The tour paired perfectly with the metal-friendly Brick By Brick. The bands had enough draw for the club to reach about half-capacity, which left plenty of space on the floor for patrons to get their angst out in circular mosh pits. Apparel was black for the most part, hair was long but only past the waist in one instance. Lotta dudes as well. Lots of dudes.
Did I mention yet that I felt like a narc? I haven’t been this much of a square at a concert since I resembled a chaperone at a Futureheads gig at the SOMA side stage in the mid-2000s. Death metal is not my thing (and that is still the case after taking in this heaping helping), but I can see its draw. It’s metal at its most primal, with grooves that settle in easily and get craniums to bang. That’s not meant to short-change the musicianship by any means. Every band on this night was locked in and well-rehearsed, but it was the drummers who really shined.
The problem is that I’m more of a wimpy metal guy who appreciates a classic metal vocalist such as Ozzy or David Lee Roth. The growling vocals just don’t click with me. I think the only muttering coming from the stage that I actually registered on this night was one of the band members asking the audience, “You guys like Slayer, right?”
The entire experience was pretty nuts. It was more akin to being attacked by sound than any concert I’ve ever attended, and I’ve seen Dinosaur Jr. in a small room minus earplugs. That being said, most in attendance seemed to bask in the onslaught.
- Night six —
- Monday, Oct. 14
- Winstons, Ocean Beach
- Electric Waste Band
I was surprised to find so many familiar faces from the Bloodletting Tour at Winstons watching a Grateful Dead cover band the next night. I kid, of course. I don’t know if you can do more of a musical 180 than going from a traveling death metal tour to observing a Dead cover band a day later. Narrow music tastes be damned — I’m taking it all in on this trek.
The ever-present black fashion ensembles on parade at the Brick By Brick had been swapped out for tie-dyes, worn hoodies, loose tees, and shorts. The circular mosh pit was replaced by euphoric Deadheads doing that happy, swaying, hippie dance. The dance that signifies that they are perhaps in their most vulnerable state — completely carefree, relaxed and totally zoned-in and entranced by the music.
Though I have never been a Deadhead myself, I’ve always been impressed by the dedication of their fans. There’s no denying it’s likely the most loyal fanbase of any American rock act. Dedicated enough to watch a Dead cover band start a second set well past midnight on a Monday night. Dedicated enough for the actual cover band to have been playing that same Monday night slot since February of 1992. Dedicated enough that legions of their fans ditched stereotypical adult existence to follow the band on the road for decades.
I should add that the Electric Waste Band members characterize themselves as more of a classic-rock band that plays a lot of the Dead’s songs. They don’t want to be considered a straight tribute. On this evening they knocked out “Rock N Roll Hoochie Koo” (Rick Derringer) and “Hard to Handle” (originally by Otis Redding, but more in sync with the later Black Crowes cover).
I posted up near the left side of the stage and snapped some pics. Robert Harvey (guitar/vocals) was camped out on this side. It was a treat to watch him play up close. He’s a technician who keeps his solos focused and entertaining. I thought he channeled the feel of Jerry Garcia’s trademark solo expeditions a bit more than their other guitarist, Mark Fisher, who had his own spin when it came to freewheeling shredding.
While there, I chatted a bit with a guy in his late 20s who was visiting from upstate New York. He was loving the performance. He told me that when his dad introduced him to the Dead’s Europe ’72 live album, it changed his life — that’s when he got hooked. He wasn’t the first. He won’t be the last.
- Night seven —
- Tuesday, Oct. 15
- Rosie O’Grady’s, Normal Heights
- Adams Gone Funky
Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday are the slimmest pickings as far as live music around town goes these days. That makes them prime nights for those attempting to become big fish by capitalizing on the smallness of the live music pond. The Electric Waste Band has killed it on Monday nights for years; the soul/funk jam Adams Gone Funky could become the next off-night institution.
Rosie O’ Grady’s in Normal Heights is where it all goes down. It’s a small, neighborhood bar, but the intimate setting just serves to enhance the character of the proceedings. On this night, it was pretty easy to snag a table close to the venue’s entrance, where all the action happens. It was a pretty moderate crowd. The turnout may have been reduced due to a large brush fire in a nearby canyon earlier in the day. There was news of power outages in the area, so I actually called before I drove over to make sure they were open.
Once they settled in, the players proceeded to slay dragons. Covers on this evening included “It’s Your Thing” (Isley Brothers), “Mystic Blue” (Ronnie Foster), and “Root Down” (Beastie Boys).
My MVP for the night was without a doubt Travis Klein. A total Swiss-Army knife of a musician. Besides taking impressive lead turns on both guitar and sax, he went full-on Jethro Tull on some epic flute excursions. He also generated a little extra scratch for the players when he strapped a tip jar to his saxophone and took a stroll around the bar — all while still playing.
Prior to embarking on his fundraising expedition, he made his intentions clear: “If you’re too lazy to put something in the tip jar, I got news for you. The tip jar is coming to you.”
So I had a blast, but I’m capping my account here since Robert Bush did such an in-depth feature on this event in the September 18 Reader.
- Night eight — Wednesday, Oct. 16
- Viejas Arena, College Area
- The Who/
- Liam Gallagher
First off, if you are wondering about that ticket price, Live Nation had a $20 ticket promotion with a T-Mobile pre-sale that I took full advantage of. I snagged five not-too-shabby seats for just a hair over $100. Don’t worry, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey won’t be living on the streets anytime soon.
So we rolled five-strong to SDSU’s Viejas Arena. I drove us all since a cold that had been gaining strength since night four was reaching peak levels of misery by this point. There would be no libations besides water and Gatorade. The High Gallery’s Mark Wiskowski, a hardcore Who fan who was along for the ride, dubbed me “patient zero.” A classic quote, one might say, until he topped it while we were trying to figure out a route to the Arena after we had parked.
“Follow the Boomers!” he declared.
The Boomers were out in force on this evening. “Tommy, can you hear me?” Perhaps not as well as they could back in the Woodstock days. The stands were a sea of grey hair. So much so that even us salt-and-peppers were a clear minority. I’m old enough to have seen the band back when their bassist, John Entwistle, was still alive, but it was obvious there were plenty in attendance who could have caught them in their prime with drummer Keith Moon blasting away at his kit. I’m envious.
The pleasant surprise was seeing all the kids who had rolled out with their parents. It certainly wasn’t an explosion of youth, but it was great to see youngsters bobbing their heads along to what appeared to be familiar tunes. The kids are alright.
Liam Gallagher, of Oasis fame, warmed up the crowd with a solo set. Never was a fan of Oasis, his solo work, or his off-stage solo antics, but the crowd gave him a very kind reception, especially for an opening act in an arena. He rewarded them by ending his set with a couple of Oasis hits from yesteryear — “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova.”
We made a break for the concessions to grab some drinks and snacks before the main event. Wiskowski took a peek at the merch booth and reported back that there was a Quadrophenia parka available for $275. I don’t know if I’d call that a bargain, but it was the best you could get from the merch booth on this night.
The time had finally arrived for the main attraction — The Who performing with a full orchestra.
The first set started with a collection of songs from the rock opera Tommy. I enjoyed the overture’s augmented orchestration, but I definitely prefer the Earth-shaking renditions that the band was famous for when they performed all of Tommy live in the late-’60s. These takes all came across as very Who-lite. The best parts were the select moments when a gigantic Pete Townshend power-chord would launch through the mix and remind everyone that they were in fact at a Who concert. But there were so many instruments in the mix that even Townshend’s guitar got lost in the soup for long stretches of time.
So, it was a bit of a pleasant surprise when the band allowed the orchestra to take a break after the first set had concluded. The second set featured The Who in their 2019 bare-bones form. Still a seven-piece professional live band, but much more in-sync with the somewhat-scrappy Who of the late ’70s and early ‘80s. “Substitute,” “I Can See For Miles,” and “You Better You Bet” shined in this slot. Daltrey and Townshend also teamed up as a duo for an acoustic take of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which I thought they actually pulled off pretty well, but which Wiskowski later declared “should never be done again!”
The orchestra reemerged for a third set that would focus on tracks from Quadrophenia. It’s worth noting here that besides the conductor, lead violinist and a cellist, all of the other musicians were locals. They pulled everything off without a hitch.
The Quadrophenia set peaked with “Love, Reign O’er Me,” and “Baba O’ Riley” would end the night for the not-so-teenage wasteland in attendance. Touring violinist Katie Jacoby stole the spotlight with an epic solo during the song’s manic finale.
And then it was all over. Eight nights in the can. A little worse for the wear, but it was still a fun adventure. I don’t know if I’d do it all again, but I’m glad I did it while I still can.