They used to call it Decoration Day. Way back in 1865, a group of freed slaves in South Carolina honored fallen Union soldiers who'd died fighting for their freedom by turning a mass grave at a race track into a proper military cemetery. Today we mark Memorial Day with a three-day weekend (ah, freedom) that includes assorted parades, flags, barbecues (weather permitting), a celebration of conspicuous consumption of fossil fuels in the form of the Indianapolis 500, and here in Humboldt, the glorious human-powered Kinetic Grand Championship Sculpture Race.
Since Kinetic madness is primarily a mobile thing, there's not too much of a music element, but you'll usually find an ad hoc marching band on the Plaza at launch time, and other bands have figured out that there's a captive audience out at the Manila Community Center, where the Kinetic kontraptions enter the dunes.
This year we have self-described "analog rock duo" Peace Of Mind Orchestra transformed into the Kinetic Polyphonic Orchestra for the occasion, inviting you to "dance in the grass as the Sculptures race towards Dead Man's Drop!" Chris Wixson's soulful band The Speakeasy Saints will also be out in Manila that day (following Thursday and Friday gigs at Cher-Ae Heights). There's also some sort of secret afterparty at Halvorsen Park Saturday evening (general public invited) -- the musical guests there are apparently a secret, but the Freelove Circus will be there, up to its usual tricks.
I have to admit, I've never been totally infected by the existential Sisyphean joys of the Kinetic Sculpture Race. I enjoy seeing the colorful machines assemble on the Plaza, and the noon launch is a great photo op, but that's usually enough for me. Join a team slogging through mud and sand for three days? Sorry. I think I'll spend Memorial Day elsewhere.
Gil at Nocturnum seems worried about a show at the club Monday night: "It's The Donkeys with Citay and Josiah Wolf. I don't know how good it's gonna do on Memorial Day, but oh well." If success is based on general coolness and blog buzz, the show should do well. The Donkeys come out of San Diego, with a sunny SoCal sound reminiscent of The Byrds or the Burrito Bros applied to songs about love gone wrong and the like. I first heard them on Daytrotter, a hip live music blog based out of Illinois that features the best in indie music. The band is on the road with Josiah Wolf from the Anticon records crew, and the hip hop/indie rock outfit Why? He's touring behind a strong new disc, Jet Lag, with sad songs about the end of a long-time relationship.
Citay is the name applied to a series of recording and touring projects featuring the über-talented Ezra Feinberg. Based in the City, they draw in part on S.F.'s psychedelic heritage, but not exclusively. "San Francisco has always been a musical city -- late ’60s psychedelic rock is just one of many things that came out of it," said Feinberg calling from S.F. before heading out on a Northwest tour where they'll meet up with their friends Vetiver. He sees ’60s rock as just one element in the band's complex sound. "Citay is as much influenced by Metallica as it is by Jefferson Airplane as it is by David Crosby or Fred Frith. They're all identified with the West Coast or the Bay Area and all of them do very different things. I'd say my music is influenced by all of them."
You can definitely hear all those influences and more on the band's latest release Dream Get Together, with its ringing guitars, CSN/Brian Wilson harmonies and driving rhythms. But it's not really retro; the overall effect is brand new. Could be just the thing for Decoration Day.
If you're not among those following the big Race, you'll have a couple of excellent music options in Arcata Saturday night. Alt. something trio Strix Vega is at the Alibi. Bassist and S.V. spokesman Andy Powell notes: "As you may know, we got our start back at The Alibi (years and years ago) and we're always very glad to get back there and turn it up a bit. We'll be playing two sets, with the first one starting around 11 (p.m.). This will most likely be the last time we get to play The Alibi before it closes, so we hope you'll join us. Maybe we'll all snap a picture during the set break to mark the occasion ..."
"Mexicali gypsy pirate polka" band Diego's Umbrella returns to Humboldt Brews for a show Saturday night. Having seen them on their home turf (in S.F.) and at their last show at Humbrews, I'll give them props for genre-mashing and the general party attitude in their delivery. Good-time music for good times.
Friday at Six Rivers, catch Arcata's Bret Harte Breakers, a folk/rock/etc. band on a mission. As noted on their MySpace, the "rebel gang of do-gooders" was "formed in the infamous Victorian house where Bret Harte, a late-19th century writer, stood down a mob infuriated with his criticism of their racist feelings and actions. In this same sense of standing against the tide, the Bret Harte Breakers play not for fame or fortune, but to bring people together."
Reggae, reggae and more reggae -- why should this weekend be any different? The one-drop starts Thursday at the Red Fox Tavern with Chezidek, a Jamaican rootsman whose 15-minutes-o'-fame comes from "Call Pon Dem," a song from a 2007 album that landed on the imaginary Massive B Sound System playing in the background in the massively successful videogame Grand Theft Auto 4. He's on tour with his friend Jah Tory; Senegalese/Humboldtian reggae singer Elhadji joins them for this benefit for Jamaica Youth Foundation, a local group with an ambitious plan to build a community center for single moms and their kids in JA.
More reggae the next night (Friday) at the Arcata Theatre Lounge. The headliner is dreadlocked Sicilian ex-pat Alborosie, formerly known as Alberto D'Ascola, who now lives in Kingston and sings about Jah Rastafari and herbal matters. His video for the track "Herbalist" on his latest release, Escape from Babylon, gained a touch of infamy when Jamaican authorities banned it for its depiction of youth ganja dealing. He sings, "Herbalist, high grade specialist, export green stash, import green cash; build up a go-go a so di money get wash." Also on the bill, smooth West Indian singer Pressure and Humboldt's own Jah Sun.
Saturday at the Jambalaya, Conscious Selections has DJ Red Rasta spinning authentic reggae vinyl with help from DJ I Sight. It's a DJ Red record weekend at the Jam, what with the other DJ Red spinning vintage vinyl on Friday for an "Old School Hip Hop Dance Party."
Saturday at ATL, it's another Helicopter Showdown GeT TuFF electro-blast, this time with more than a modicum of reggae in the form of a Santa Cruz producer/DJ whose name, Rastatronics, displays his foundation in dub. Western Science and Devour fill out the bill; VJ CJ provides visualization. Also in the electro vein: Touch and Psy-Fi playing for free at the Red Fox Friday night.
Bad Kitty is back at the Red Fox Tuesday, June 1, with Flatfoot 56, a "Celtic" Oi! punk band from the South Side of Chicago out on the road with a new disc, Black Thorn, and getting ready to join up with this summer's Warped Tour 2010. The decade-old Flatfoot is "Celtic" in that the band includes bagpipes and mandolin, but expect hard-hitting blue collar punk rock at the core (and be prepared for a mosh pit). Who else could open this show but The Smashed Glass?