October 2018 will go down as one of the most legendary months in Crazy Horse music history. The consistency of top-tier performances matched by large, enthusiastic crowds summed up everything that fuels our reputation as one of the hottest little venues in the country. SambaDa kicked the month off with a funky Brazilian dance party. Whenever we have Latin music here, it always ignites a passionate response. SambaDa’s seductive female vocals, hypnotic, percussive rhythms and horn-fueled melodies are dripping with enchantment. This show was a fine example of how important it is for certain bands to feed off the energy of an audience. There was a sense that everyone felt involved.
Jumping from one Santa Cruz band to another, China Cats made their debut on Saturday the 6th. Reflecting the diversity we explore from one night to the next, the Deadheads came out of the woodwork for this one. China Cats’ shimmering, multi-layered, effects-laden psychedelia tapped in to the essence of 1980’s Dead more than any other tribute we’ve hosted. The guitar duo of Matt Hartle and Scott Cooper encapsulated the Garcia-Weir chemistry in electrifying fashion. Hartle played like a man possessed, guiding a jaunt through “Not Fade Away” that exemplified the groove-heavy approach that made the Dead synonymous with dance floor surrender.
Local band Elevation celebrated the release of their debut CD on Friday the 12th. It has been cool to see them continue to build a following with their irresistible blend of funk and soul. The vocal duo of Jamal “J Silk” Walker and Brynn Farwell really makes Elevation stand out. Vocal prowess was the emphasis on the next night as well. All the way from New York, Upstate warmed the room with their lush sound. Three female vocalists wove a harmonic tapestry with four acoustic instruments breathing the wind into the sails. Gene Evaro Jr. followed with two sets of sexy, funky, neo-desert soul. Evaro’s voice is bewitching enough in its own right, but even more so now with the addition of two female back up vocalists. As was the case with their previous performance, the band whisked us into an exotic improvisational realm during its encore. Considering they are self-admittedly a band that doesn’t jam, this anomaly speaks volumes to the comfort factor artists relish at the Crazy Horse.
People were palpitating with anticipation for the return of the Jeff Austin Band on Wednesday the 17th. The former Yonder Mountain String Band frontman has crystallized his solo project with a lineup that is ferocious enough to make any bluegrass fan drool. Banjo virtuoso Kyle Tuttle is the “x-factor”, bringing a notable swagger and playfulness to the group. Speed is one thing, but it’s the tasteful spaciousness of his phrasing that makes his solos soar. All four guys seemed perpetually amused with the stream of consciousness they were hurling back and forth. The crowd was overjoyed that Austin introduced a number of Yonder classics back into his repertoire – several of which were greeted with howls of euphoria. Their take on The Rolling Stones “No Expectations” was one of the many highlights.
Our unstoppable roll continued with the Third Thursday ritual featuring Band Beyond Description. The ever-changing lineup had even more star power than usual thanks to the beloved Joe Craven adding percussion, violin and mandolin. His “Sometimers” bandmates – Bruce McMillan (guitar, dobro) and Jonathan Stoyanoff (bass) – were more than happy to hop aboard the jam express. This event delivers the goods month after month, but this one had a particularly sacred vibe. They treated the audience to an all-acoustic first set and an electric second set. Gems were unearthed from the coveted Garcia-Grisman catalog (which Craven was a part of) including “Walking Boss,” “Russian Lullabye” and “Dreadful Wind and Rain.” McMillan handled the lion’s share of these vocals with his unique timbre breathing newfound resonance into the timeless crevices. Craven’s transcendent musicianship shone throughout.
Amidst all of the action, some people overlooked a lesser-known show like pigWar and DoveDriver on Friday the 19th. These ultra-funky and soulful Portland bands brought their “A-game.” pigWar wielded a horn section and a dazzling guest vocalist named Zahira. The blonde dreaded priestess brought the house down with one of the best covers we’ve ever heard here – Stone Temple Pilots’ “Plush.” Guitarist Teddy Presberg guided the ensemble through several of his striking original arrangements.
People who thought they were entering just another light-hearted funk show on Saturday the 20th were in for a jolt to their systems. Yes, Katdelic’s music can be categorized under the umbrellas of funk, rock and soul. However, their approach comes with a jagged intensity and punk edge that could peel the paint off the walls. Maybe the fact that they have two bass players has something to do with that. Along with the psychedelic, sensory-overload, projection show they brought, this was like entering a multi-media funhouse. Rocking out at blistering volume for three hours straight, the capacity crowd certainly got plenty of bang for its buck. One veteran later declared it to be the “hardest he had ever danced.”
Rock-tober madness showed no respite as California Kind turned another Wednesday into a cosmic adventure. When Barry Sless’s angelic guitar tone starts swirling around the room, you are quickly reminded that you are in the presence of greatness. Rob Barraco’s bouncy keys and John Molo’s syncopated drums frame every moment with surreal briliance. It was a bummer not to have Pete Sears laying down the bass, but his fill-in, Bill Laymon (David Nelson Band), left little to be desired. The dynamic guitarist/vocalist Katie Skene wrangles it all in with her charming leadership. The specifics escape me now, but I can assure you everyone walked away tingling with bliss and fulfillment.
I took a field trip to the Hangtown Halloween Ball in Placerville for the last weekend of the month so I can’t comment firsthand on Grease, Grit and Grime, The Sam Chase and the Untraditional or Fly Tiger. However, I know on good authority that all three were in line with the month’s volcanic trajectory. Instead of our usual Halloween entertainment with DJ Neptune, we wrapped up the month with a Phish webcast; live from the MGM Arena in Las Vegas. We’ve been broadcasting live streams here since the beginning which is greatly appreciated by our Phish-loving community.
The band pulled off its most impressive prank yet, tricking their fans into thinking they were covering an album by an obscure Scandinavian band from 1981. Instead it turned out to be 12 original songs heard for the first time. The impressive, dance-inducing material was aligned with the alter-ego of this fabricated band – Kasvot Vaxt. The overall effect was exponentially amplified by a visually resplendent set, lighting and choreography.
The level of creativity Phish was achieving – both as Kasvot Vaxt and while playing their own material – navigated uncharted territory. Whether people were Phishheads or not, they stood transfixed, watching the magic unfold on the big screen. The HD image and crystalline sound were so exceptional, this was clearly the next best option to being at the concert (and even better in some way). Phish played three sets extending all the way until 1:30am. We fit a costume contest in there with a guy in a walrus suit calling himself “Party Animal” taking first prize.
The only downside was that Deltaphonic was planning on playing a 90 minute set for us starting at midnight. We had to adapt and snuck in two short sets; one during a Phish setbreak and the other when they were done. The New Orleans-based duo made the most of their limited time and instantly won over the crowd with their funky, soulful, bluesy, voodoo rock. It was fitting to cap off the month with a night that was so overloaded with monumental music, it could barely be contained.
Encapsulating Tyler Blue
If you have walked through the door during a show at the Crazy Horse over the last six + years, you've probably been greeted by Tyler Blue. When we are truly moved by music, the feelings are hard to describe. Through these reivews, Tyler intends to crystallize emotions and illuminate reflections while bringing the spirit of a show back to life.