When Janis Ian wrote her seminal song "At Seventeen," she started with the perfect stanza about tragic, trapped, popular and doomed teenage girls who peaked too soon: "I learned the truth at 17/ That love was meant for beauty queens/ And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles/ Who married young and then retired." She goes on to build a gentle contrast between instant winners and perennial losers, managing to draw an evenhanded map of the pitfalls that each side endures as they age. It is a brilliant song by a brilliant songwriter. Why am I writing about this song that came out a decade before my consciousness came online? Because it contains a lot of nuance, which invites empathy toward its subjects and then proceeds to tell a balanced story of their fates. It reminds me of the weird times we live in, with the ever-pressing need for an appreciation of the winners, the losers and the quiet survivors of history's shadow who are all threatened by the nihilistic broad strokes of today's harshly polarized cultural landscape. This week I want to celebrate the unlikely niche bands, wallflower underground groups, popular dance music magicians, staid local milestones and enduring millstones who are each offering the best they have to give us for our pleasure.
Let's listen then, shall we?
I sometimes talk about my personal "three decade" bands, meaning bands I saw live as a surly teenager in the '90s, an unmoored and rudderless 20-something jellyfish in the '00s, and a sane and professional adult "hanging on in quiet desperation" in this decade. That list is fairly brief, with heavy metal luminaries like The Melvins and Neurosis looming large. Local bluegrass maestros and one-time farmers market champs the Compost Mountain Boys are on that list though, and for a good reason: I grew up here and they are bright, tight and fun. Plus, I worked with a few of them at Wildwood Music when I was in high school. They play at the Mad River Brewery Tasting Room at 6 p.m. for free.
The Van Duzer Theatre hosts Los Angeles' Chicano Batman and Houston's Kruangbin at 8 p.m., two excellent groups that do what I call a "filtered-filter" with their sound, meaning they take a type of popular music that has been absorbed and filtered by another culture and filter it again for modern ears ($25). Case in point: Chicano Batman has absorbed the sounds of Brazilian tropicalia rock bands like Os Mutantes, mixed it with the psychedelic soul output of R&B groups like the '70s iteration of The Temptations, and filtered it through a contemporary lens for modern audiences. Openers Khruangbin do the same thing with '60s Thai funk and Persian rock'n'roll. Good stuff.
The Outer Space has a fun early Friday show for you at 7 p.m. with the heart-tugging rock chug of Philly's Radiator Hospital, local folk act Julio Perdido and the synth-pop sounds of Eureka City Councilmember and multitalented polymath Natalie Arroyo's act, Smilebright ($7).
Five years seems like a long time until you open your wallet and realize your driver's license is about to expire and, though you might be the same height (if you are under 60), you are probably not the same weight (if you are over 26). Five years exists in a quantum uncertainty of both long and short timeframes, and nothing could prove this more than the Kindred Spirits show at the Logger Bar, celebrating the five-year anniversary of that bar's majestic re-opening. How can something that has become a local institution carved in the granite (or burl) of Humboldt history have only opened its remodeled doors five years ago? Find out tonight at 9 p.m. (free).
At the Miniplex is a 9 p.m. psyche rock showdown with Arizona's The Myrrors shimmering their desert-style haze against the chaotic melodies of Olympia, Washington's poppy duo Teach Me Equals ($10, $8 advance). Local writer and wry canny wit Julia Long debuts her act Schizoid Bus Stop.
Mr. Moonbeam continues his ongoing one-man band whistle-stop tour of the twilit heavens of yesteryear when playing The Siren's Song tonight at 9 p.m. (price TBA). Expect mini-flute melodies, pitch-pipe cowboy vocals and well-plucked space oddities tuned to the vibe of Santo & Johnny's "Sleep Walk." The soundtrack-rock trio The Mojave Green brings its Old West panorama partitas to the party, too. Oakland EDM duo Dimond Saints parks its Sun and Moon tour at the Arcata Theater Lounge at 9 p.m. with the express desire to max out your low-end EQ tolerance and exalt your melodic highs enough to raise that old curved Art-Deco roof for good ($15). Dance, you mama jammas, dance!
If the Dimond Saints' show last night didn't fill your low-gravity-bass dance desires, worry not: The Deep Groove Society has your back with its ongoing Sundaze residency at The Jam at 9:30 p.m. Five dollars will get you 20hz or lower subwoofer drops to make you shake and dance with loose subliminal passions not seen since the height of the European plague years and the St. Vitus Dance.
Does anyone remember the movie Swing Kids? That seminal early '90s teen flick in which a post Dead Poet's Society Robert Sean Leonard and future Bateman/Batman Christian Bale process the oppressive grip of the Hitler Youth by surreptitiously swing dancing in Nazi Germany? I haven't seen that film in years but, much like many trends I had hoped were forever dead and rotting on the vine, fascism and martial conformity are back and big these days, and beating them down conventionally can be exhausting. So perhaps take a small break from the battle (but never give up, dammit) and enjoy the ongoing Monday Swing Dance classes offered by Redwood Raks Studio at 7 p.m. with a DJ playing all the jumpin' and jivin' tunes our grandparents swiveled to while obliterating the Nazis ($7 drop in/$20 four night punch-card).
Siren's Song hosts a throwback sock-hop night with Los Angeles' always touring and vintage '50s street fight sounding trio Three Bad Jacks screaming out their soulful rockabilly moan. Local early rock chuggers Snake Oil Lullaby sit mid-bill while local punk rock line-up Scum Lords make their live debut at 8 p.m. (price TBA).
The Siren's Song hosts singer songwriter night at 7:30 p.m. with a diverse lineup of some of Humboldt's brightest young voices: Ghost, Donel, Julio Perdido, Blood Honey, Akaelah Rain and Jamie Coppa ($5 suggested).
Aber Miller continues his Wednesday residency at Larrupin at 6 p.m. and, like Humboldt's finest date-night restaurant and the dreamy environs it lives in, he will enchant you with his effortless ebony and ivory interpretations of jazz music. Grab a cocktail or a meal and let the beautiful interior of the resplendent roadhouse and Aber's skilled piano work carry you to a classier time.
Collin Yeo loves Janis Ian songs and hates Nazis. Swing dancing sits at the equator of his moral compass. He lives in Arcata and prays that all the righteous artists and cool weirdos will one day interbreed and create a dynasty to outlast the sun.
Full show listings in the Journal's Music and More grid, the Calendar and online. Bands and promoters, send your gig info, preferably with a high-res photo or two, to email@example.com.