When you think about the 4th of July in Los Angeles, you have this red-white-and-blue-fireworks-on-the-beach cliché in your head, or the Hollywood bowl extravaganza and its grandiose décor with lightning in the sky. It was not exactly the vision that the Warlocks had for their Smokeout at the Bootleg on the 4th, an all-evening-long psych fest, bringing a dozen of psychedelic bands on two different stages. Since I don’t really like following traditions, I went to the Warlocks’ Smokeout, and spent more than 5 hours inside the darkest club in LA, while having a great time.
Of course, there was a common theme for the night, psychedelia and darkness were the central characters, being more or less represented in the sound of the different bands, but several of them could have belong to the same family of music, which makes even more difficult my usual task. When you see 11 bands the same night, it’s always a challenge for my endurance, my memory and my ears: another common denominator was the loudness of course.
And talking about loudness, it was well represented by the first band, Leaf, which did make a very heavy sound for such a light moniker. Where do these guys come from? They didn’t seem to be particularly young and their band has joined Facebook just last year! In any case the long-haired trio was producing a vibrating, static and heavy music, with a sludgy and slow rhythm, distorted guitars and ravaging bass lines. It was a monster kind of sound with some occasional psychedelia in the guitars, and they could have had something from Dinosaur Jr, while flirting with doom metal, however the vocals were curiously very distinct, a rare thing when the music is that loud.
In the other room, Darklands started their set a bit late and I am pretty sure the bombshell frontgirl made an impression on the crowd. She had gusto, a sort of grunge look and a big voice, singing over some dark aggressive music. All along, the drums (decorated with an US flag) were central in the music, taking over the sonic place, filling the stage, and fueling the energy of the songs. Of course Darklands is also a Jesus and Mary Chain album, a video game but on their Facebook page they are talking about some Mexican pyramid? So who knows what really inspired them. The power chords, the fast rock and big vocals could have been a tiny bit Fleetwood Mac but with a large dose of post punk or something more disruptive to dilute the 70s classic rock. Did they cover Cocteau Twins?
Next was Drinking Flowers, and it was my third time seeing them (they were playing at Lolipalooza last weekend). I really like their psychedelic sound which reminds me of early Brian Jonestown Massacre, I know I have said this before, but the reverb in the vocals, the 60s-tainted-psychedelic-druggy songs and the tambourine guy always bring me back to this band. So please, don’t let them leave for Berlin! They were not afraid to make a mess with a wall of sound and their music put my neurons in the right place – Their EP is called ‘Sanity Restored 1972’, a reference to the Texas psychedelic forerunners 13th Floor Elevators! – and they use the terms neo-psychedelic, postpunk-drone to describe themselves, but they were also selling t-shirts written ‘Underground pop. I will see Drinking Flowers again around soon, especially because they are about to release the Shadow Show’ EP via Eager Waves records.
L.A. Witch, another band I had seen before, was playing in the big room, and the girl-power-trio have a dark sound that can remind you that of several all-girl bands (Bleached, Dum Dum Girls, Savages,…) they are a bit of that and something else, with a retro sound that does not belonging to the past, surf guitars fogged in psychedelia, some foot-tapping fast rides, reverb-wrapped haunting vocals and some explosive pounding drumming by a girl whose red head contrasts with the dark hair of the other girls. I totally understand why they were part of this line-up,… they were so badass with a sexy index to the roof.
Super 78 was one of the rare bands on the bill coming out of town (they are from Utah), and they first had some technical difficulties so started their set late and played a shorter set. Do I lack imagination or did they remind me the Brian Jonestown Massacre too? No it was not my imagination or lack of, because I read that they have covered the BJM and have toured with Joel Gion’s band. They were a lot on stage, and the multi guitars produced a long krautrock-y build-up for the songs (‘Super 78 is a Neu’s song), which were delivered with intensity, smoggy high vocals, and a very layered druggy-psych atmosphere. Their last song was very good, ascending in an enormous sound, a bit pissed-off, with a wild animal feel. I could be wrong on this one because his hair was masking his face all the time, but I thought that the frontman looked a bit like a young Marlon Brando, so this was making their set even more captivating.
Von Haze – yeah I didn’t even take a rest between the bands – was a bit different, a dark synth-guitar, guy-girl duo with an out-of this-town feeling… I am starting to get a good taste of a typical LA band. Effectively, they are a Brooklyn duo by way of London, and are now in LA-based, bringing new wave-y soundscapes with multi-pedals-loaded shattering guitar and even dance beats. I thought they were totally innocent and cute but the stage was really dark and I need more light to decide, but since I stumbled on this too-hot-to handle video of theirs, I may have underestimated their sex appeal.
I recognized Magic Wands’ frontgirl, since she has another band called Bonfire Beach that I saw a few months ago. The look was almost the same but the sound quite different, it was still a big sound but going in a much more dreamy pop in a space-y-psych kind of direction. I saw she had golden flakes on her forehead and this makes all the cosmic difference. But Magic Wands is essentially a duo as Dexy Valentine composed her songs with guitarist Chris Valentine and together they have released ‘Aloha Moon’ an LP filled with black magic, crystals, teenage love and dreams. They may have dubbed their sound ‘lovewave’, but, even though their sound was brighter than everything I had heard this same night, even though they had poppy hooks, which had honestly been absent so far, the black leather jacket and raybans were not too far away, with a poppy sound still wrapped around big guitars,… Still I was starting to get tired and I guess I will have a fresher idea when I see them again this week. Not only they are prolific, but they play around!
Sure lots of people were waiting for the Warlocks, they certainly have a cult following here in LA, and probably elsewhere, they are always touring and they were even opening for the Dandy Warhols very recently. I have seen them before, at the same place, and their throbbing-psychedelic music seems to perfectly fit the dark theater. However, it appeared to me their set was a bit more upbeat than last time? It’s true that their albums sound really differently and ‘Shake the Dope Out’ or ‘The Dope Feels Good’ (from their 22002 ‘Phoenix’) almost sound light hearted compared to the heavy darkness of songs off their last album. They played a little bit of each of their albums, from ‘Angry Demons’ (2000) to ‘Red Camera’, ‘The Midnight Sun’ (from 2009 ‘The Mirror Explodes’) and ‘Dead Generation’, ‘Chameleon’ (from 2013 ‘Skull Worship’), with guitars in unison and sometimes one of them detaching itself from the thick krautrock-y haze… of course, all that druggy dense fog didn’t mean they were not throwing here and there some big dance-y hooks (‘The Dope Feels Good’), or some big fat dangerous rock’ n’ roll numbers (‘Caveman Rock’). While guitarist JC Rees was doing his own crazy guitar-dance on the left, Earl V. Miller (guitar) and Christopher DiPino (bass) on the right were making contortions with spiraling fuzzy guitars in front of George Serrano’s rolling drumming. Frontman Bobby Hecksher looked sometimes happy, after all, his band was hosting this smokeout party, but most of the time he was keeping this almost-haggard look, vaguely dangerous, quite enigmatic. For my part, I think he bares a strange and occasional resemblance with Elliott Smith, but this is just me…
And it was not over, there were still three bands to play, like LSD and the Search for God. First, I thought it was a great moniker, and I expected a bit more rabbits and mushrooms? Honestly when you pick a name like this one, you are asking for it. But they turned out to be quite poppy. Still, when I arrived in the room, they were into some kind of endless spacey-dreamy jam, and I thought that the cute female singer was just here for decoration? No, she finally sang with one of the guitarists (they were a lot on stage). I need to see them again when my ears are not ringing because their shoegaze could have been a bit on the My Bloody Valentine side?
I should apologize for the bands who played afterwards, it was past 1 am and it was harder and harder to concentrate, as this smokeout was stretching into the wee hours. I saw a bit of Loto Ball’s set with a theatrical frontman, a military-commando look, a synth and a guitar battling some pounding drums, a punk-aggressive delivery and a trumpet? It was weird, artsy and audacious.
Blood Candy closed the night, courageously playing after all these bands. Fronted by a sexy girl, they rocked in an aggressive way, with at times a rather heavy dark sound, big drums, tearing guitars and vocals which were reflecting the band’s moniker: part sweet and part aggressive, a bit like Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss’ own thing, but without the riotous antics.
I left the place exhausted and the head full of sounds, this Smokeout thing was like an impromptu mini festival, and there are so many of them in LA, all the time, the only thing missing for me is more stamina!
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