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Big time indie-rock stars disappoint, but the Big Bang Fest delivers

By David Espinoza

CONTRARY TO MY EARLIER prediction, September just wasn't the month for high-profile indie-rockers. Yeah, Jets to Brazil's Sept. 19 gig at the Catalyst was impressive, but that still doesn't make the band's second album, Four Cornered Night, any more enjoyable. And what about Sunny Day Real Estate's hotly anticipated return to the Catalyst Sept. 26? You don't even want to go there.

Performing before a surprisingly low turnout, accompanied by a few extra musicians, Sunny Day Real Estate's Tuesday night show left me scratching my head. Maybe lead singer Jeremy Enigk's chain smoking has finally caught up with him. Maybe Tuesday nights aren't meant to be. Maybe the band's latest album, The Rising Tide, is a sign the band is slipping.

The last explanation is probably the best one, as the new album is so uninspiring and generic, fans must be wondering if it's the same band. Even so, this being Sunny Day Real Estate's first show of the new tour, one might expect the three original band members to do justice to older material. It wasn't meant to be.

There were, however, moments of bliss, like the four-song encore that included a rare performance of "Seven," the first track on the band's debut album. But for the most part, this was not Sunny Day at its best. Frontman Enigk, a born-again who looks like he's made several round trips to hell, makes or breaks the band with his voice. In other words, when his fragile falsetto is off-key or can't hit the peaks (this ain't punk rock), nothing can save the trio from drowning.

Two down, nine more to go

The first lesson apparent from attending two gigs at the 11-day Big Bang festival is that atmosphere is everything. For example, the venue of choice for the Sept. 29 Friday show with Sin in Space, Cowboy!, Panpan and Bluebottle Kiss (an undisclosed location on Front Street) was way too stuffy. Sonic Youth-meets-Velocity Girl-wannabes Cowboy! (from Chico) had a few decent moments, though the band's lead guitar player and singer's yapping between songs marred much of the set. Not surprisingly, the band to save the night was local quartet Sin in Space, which summed up the deeper meaning behind the Big Bang fest with an opening ditty called "Asteroid Band." Guitarist Kirstin Rigg and bassist Becca Stewart are doing more harmonizing with lead singer Cassidy Meijer these days, and the sound Sin In Space is forging is destined to reach far outside of Santa Cruz.

Taken as a whole, Friday's show didn't even compare, though, with Oct. 1's Sunday gig at UCSC's Stevenson College Dinning Hall. Set off the stage, on the opposite side of the room, with a super high ceiling and only a few lamps on the floor, the Stevenson Dining Hall had the surreal vibe of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video--without the cheerleaders. While the honest, white-trash, Murder City Devils-influenced garage rock of the Serum Greys, and the kitsch, Bo Diddley-inspired Hate Mail Express both made for adrenaline-pumped sets, the experimental-funk of !!! easily took the gold. Based in Sacramento, the eight-member outfit's name is three consecutive sounds (e.g. "thunk, thunk, thunk,"), and the band basically plays funk like you've never heard it before. Sadly, half the band is moving to New York--so much for that.

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From the October 4-11, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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