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Highway 9 Hit: In 2003, Trapt's hit single 'Headstrong' was heard in many professional sports promos.

Lost in Transition

In 2003, San Jose's rock scene staged a quiet comeback with new clubs opening and bands signing deals

By Sarah Quelland

BLAME trickle-down economics. In 2003, hope and optimism were common themes inside Silicon Valley boardrooms, and that feeling extended to the local club and music scenes. Despite the depressing state of the economy, a virtual alphabet of new clubs opened in the South Bay, from Santa Clara's Avalon to San Jose's Zoë. Even before Arnold stormed Sacramento, folks bet that in times of financial strife, entertainment will be one of the last luxuries left.

The early part of the year was a time of transition for the downtown club scene. In SoFA, Zoë and Back Bar opened and cut back on live music. Across the way, the spy nightclub concentrated on DJ nights to compete with Zoë, Agenda, Cabana and B-Hive. Other new clubs shifted the focus away from San Jose's entertainment districts and created several key pockets rather than one main drag.

The glitzy Santana Row became a destination for a classy clientele downtown San Jose has been trying to woo for years. Attractive new hot spots like Straits and Vbar draw designer crowds every week. Similarly, Campbell's old dive, the Cardiff Lounge, morphed into a sleek DJ lounge. Down the street from the Cardiff, the all-ages rock and theater venue, the Gaslighter Theater remained open to give local bands a place to play.

Near San Pedro Square, Plant 51 unexpectedly went dark before reopening as the punk rock Blank Club in March. Johnny Van Wyk opened up Johnny V's, a cool DJ nook on East Santa Clara that occasionally hosts live bands. After no small amount of wrangling for its permits, in November the Caravan restored live music on Thursdays and Fridays. Even the VooDoo Lounge jumped in on the live-music game with the monthly showcase South Bay Unsigned. Local rock continues to get a weekly boost from KSJO and Sloppy Joe's Sunday-night Homegrown show. Live music is maintaining in the South Bay with successes like Rockstars and Bitches and the all-ages Los Gatos Outhouse.

Palo Alto's Edge also hosted local shows, including a few that have made a national name for themselves. Most notably, Los Gatos' Trapt became the biggest band to emerge from Silicon Valley since Smash Mouth. The Headstrong group signed with Warner Bros. in 2002, and by 2003 its self-titled major-label debut had gone platinum.

The success of dredg has been more subdued. The Los Gatos band played dates with Deftones and Chevelle and headlined a national club tour. Insolence released Stand Strong on Warner Music Japan in November. Meanwhile, after touring separately with dredg and Alien Ant Farm, Campbell's Strata signed with Wind-Up Records. Its label debut, tentatively titled Victory Blvd., is due out in 2004.

Pop-punk group Stunt Monkey landed with the new UTR Music Group label and released its latest, [self-titled]. Similarly, San Jose rock band Fighting Jacks signed with the Christian-oriented Tooth and Nail Records and released The Dying Art of Life.

The state of former South Bay headliners has been a mess. Reaction 31 broke up. Krenshaw all but disappeared, although the band is readying a comeback album, Fingered. Similarly, Ones and Zeros is preparing to release its newest, Chrome, in 2004.

Lavabone recruited vocalist Seth Heitzmann to replace J.C. Franklin (who now fronts the new band Zamora) and later saw the departure of longtime guitarist Ron Taniguchi. Lavabone has been retooling its sound and expects to release a new recording by early 2004.

Hippie Aggression remains on hiatus with plans to pick up again with a partly new lineup next year. Divided recently parted ways with guitarist Paul Borges and intends to regroup with a new guitar player under a new name.

With so many bands in turmoil, others like Plans for Revenge, Drist, Firmé and SECURITY, built momentum. Additionally, new bands popped up, in particular Moulder's Lounge and Called to Ruin. Both are in good position to become major forces if hope and optimism prevails in 2004.

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From the January 1-7, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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