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[whitespace] It's Alive!

Rock & roll magnesium deposits discovered at old Rio Theatre

By David Espinoza

FOR A LOCAL BAND, Comets on Fire don't play live too much, but when they do, it's a complete and total noise disaster. With an all-star cast consisting of Noel Harmonson of the Lowdown on gadget, Chris Gonzalez of the Exploding Crusties (and a thousand other bands) on dee-rums, Ethan Miller of the Philistine Tent Revival on geetaw/vox, and a bass player guy I didn't recognize but who could very well be Ben Flashman, the quartet unleashed fire-and-brimstone distorted rock & roll circa 1970s Detroit "Rock City" last Friday (Jan. 19) at the Rio Theatre. With veterano SC faves Slow Gherkin and up-and-coming dub reggae boys the Expendables headlining, Comets on Fire's balls-out layered feedback and fuzz threw most fans a curve. Basically, when COF came on stage, no one knew how to react--most folks just stared.

Energy-wise, Comets on Fire are akin to a less confrontational version of the MC5--loud, out-of-control, painful to the ears, great stage presence. Harmonson, a natural when it comes to mimicking robotic toy gestures, hunched over his sampler thingy-ma-bob, mechanically clapping his hands like one of those cymbal-holding fuzzy monkeys. Through a mess of tangled hair, vocalist Miller sloppily wailed on his baby blue Jazzmaster (or was it a jaguar?) and gargled lyrics most likely about booze though there was no way to tell. Add Chris G's almighty thunderous drums and Comets on Fire probably came close to causing another stage-three power alert.

Back to the subject of the Rio, the old roach-and-rat hotel is now brimming with a variety of musical and cultural events this town hasn't seen in one venue since the UCSC Pizza Junxion opened up. It's about time too, as the smell of feet and sight of synchronized dancing to the Spice Girls by 12-year-olds at the roller rink on Seabright was getting old.

All-age venues arrive and disappear in this town faster than an obscure Canadian flick at the Nickelodeon, but the Rio has the potential to be around for years. Instead of hosting big names passing through town for profit, the Rio is developing into a safe zone for local avant-garde musicians, performers and poets, which could mean a cultural renaissance in Santa Cruz. One last thing: heads up for February--indie-pop snobs the Promise Ring and local act Time Spent Driving will hit the Rio on the 10th.

Inter Galactic Planetary

It's comforting to know that as the pop-music world seeps further into electronic doodling, where one guy can control all the knobs, a six-piece funk band like Galactic can still sell out the biggest venue in Santa Cruz. Heading off the Sno-Core Icicle Ball 2001 at the Civic Auditorium Friday (Jan. 19), a show that included the ever-bizarre Les Claypool and his Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, Galactic served up a few hours worth of hot-blooded New Orleans phunk that would have melted the icicles right off the roof had there been any.

Arriving late from the Rio show, I could barely get past the main entrance before getting hit right in the retinas by a dazzling light show. That was nothing, though, compared to swimming through the hordes of noodle-dancers. One of the few remaining 23-minute-solo funk bands out there, Galactic has inherited the jam-band crowd, with audiophile recording equipment towering over the baked audience and clouds of irie-goodness. In the wake of Phish's hiatus and Jerry's death (yes, some people will never let go), the jam-band scene is dying for a new king, and Galactic may be the heir if the String Cheese Incident or Carl Denson doesn't get to it first.

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From the January 24-31, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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