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Unlike No Other: With the Drop Science, San Diego prog rock will never be the same.

Sound the Alarm

The Phoenix may never be the same

By Sara Bir

Weird! Wild! Wonderful! Weird again! Crazy, vibrant, and energetic bands play the Phoenix Theatre all of the time, but it is highly unlikely that the honorable yet weathered walls of Petaluma's crusty punk emporium have yet housed a lineup as contrarian, volatile, and daring as the Rum Diary, Oxbow, and the Drop Science. With Oxbow's confrontational theatrics, the Rum Diary's lush dreamscapes, and the Drop Science's nightmare scenarios, the audience won't know whether to sit, stand, or run. It should make for a bumpy ride and a highly entertaining evening.

Cotati's own Rum Diary (yes, named for the Hunter S. Thompson novel), aka the Cotati Sound Machine, are based out of a house off the Gravenstein Highway that's full of sagging sofas and empty Olympia cans. They all met while attending Sonoma State University in the mid '90s and have been playing together since 2000.

The Rum Diary's music is not well-suited for impatient people. It builds slowly upon itself in layers of melodic bass, moog organ squiggles, drawn-out stretches of guitar feedback, and dual drumming. The band's recently released EP, A Key to Slow Time, finds their songs reaching new planes of subtlety, creating arcs that curve from slow-motion tension to soothing resolution, all in one drawn-out transition. Some people call this kind of stuff space rock, and it is indeed conducive to leaving your head for a while, just to sit and listen--really listen.

It will be a big change of gear from Oxbow, a band that sounds the way it feels to turn over a smooth, clean rock in the woods and see all the millipedes, rotting leaves, and maggots underneath. Frontman Eugene Robinson's vocals twist and screech incomprehensibly from yelps to screams to wails against a backwash of twitching guitars and tortured orchestral rumblings.

The Palo Alto band has been around for a dozen years or so, and they've built up a sizable European following that they will probably never achieve here in the States--Oxbow's music is just too uncompromising and experimental. An Evil Heat, their latest album, rings with themes of sexual compulsion and religious implications of guilt.

Onstage, Robinson's been known to cover his ears with duct tape and strip down. It's all part of Oxbow's highly confrontational live show, which, though it can't replicate all the intricacies--string sections, saxophones, and jazz, blues, and classical samples--of their recorded albums, still makes up for it with an incomparable element of insane intensity.

And if Oxbow's shows are unpredictable, it's not because the audience expects them to be; it's because Oxbow would not have it any other way. This is a truly independent band, in that their music will always be highly inaccessible.

And in that, the Drop Science and Oxbow are kindred spirits. The Drop Science have an angular, discombobulating, and prog-as-fuck sound that shares little in common with San Diego-native indie kin like Pinback or the Black Heart Procession. With push-and-tug singsong vocal trade-offs, paranoid guitar lines, and subversively hypnotic, plodding bass, the Drop Science put on a riveting live show and are one of the few bands that really, truly sound like no one else.

Their brand-new sophomore full-length, Dies Tonight, has few songs that run below 10 minutes, which I guess is what you get from a band full of Yes fanatics. It's not music you put on to study to.

So who knows what an all-ages Oxbow show with the Drop Science and the Rum Diary will turn out like. This is going to be nothing like the tried-and-true punk rock that Phoenix regulars are used to seeing. "I am honored to say that Petaluma will never be the same after this show," claims Jon Fee of the Rum Diary. And while that is probably a stretch, he could be on to something.


The Rum Diary, Oxbow, and the Drop Science play at the Phoenix Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 9, with the Set Up in the lobby. 8pm. The Phoenix Theatre, 201 Washington St., Petaluma. $6. 707.762.3565.

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From the November 7-13, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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