The 10 Best Bands From Long Beach
Sublime will be somewhere on this list, obviously.
Gasoline Alley/MCA Records
The city of Long Beach’s contributions to popular music probably will always be overshadowed by that of its big sister, L.A. Which is a shame, really.
Of course there are the city’s two most famous musical denizens, Snoop Dogg and Sublime, who rep Long Beach hard in their songs. But have you heard of Suburban Rhythm, The Pyramids or Z? Did you know that Zack de la Rocha, Julieta Venegas and Jack Grisham were all born in the working-class port city, too? And what does it mean that all of these fantastically disparate sounds came out of the same blocks of the same urban grit, 30 miles (and a cultural lifetime) from L.A.’s entertainment industry churn?
Here are the top 10 bands (sorry, rappers and solo artists weren't included for this one) from the International City who have (often subtly) shaped mainstream noise.
10. Crystal Antlers
Crystal Antlers never made a lot of sense — and we mean that as a compliment. Albums like 2008’s self-titled debut and 2009’s Tentacles bounce all over the place, from doomy lo-fi grumbles to Latin-tinged riffs to psych-rock freakouts, complete with bongos, organ riffs and a bassist/singer who plays as though he’s shredding a four-string guitar. Looking at a photo of the members of Crystal Antlers will confuse you more than it will give you any insight into who is behind this relentless energy and proggy goodness; each person looks as if s/he stumbled into the frame from somewhere else. That’s because Crystal Antlers is the sum of many parts, even when it’s a stripped-down three-piece, as it was for its most recent set of songs. These days, singer Jonny Bell is tending to his home studio, Jazz Cats, where he records other hard-to-define bands such as Rubedo and Jeffertitti’s Nile.
Long Beach breeds some of the industry’s top session musicians, many of whom can be heard on Grammy-nominated records and at live shows around the world. But Long Beach is home to only one session band — a group of multigenre minds so creatively on their own planet that they are hired to produce and perform as a package. The three core members of Z (formerly known as Mulatto) are so adept at fusing deep funk, punk rock, theatrical R&B, conscious hip-hop, electronic futurism and cinematic soul that they’ve been both the musical director and backing band for rap royalty Nas, as well as the composers and featured band for revolutionary magic show The Illusionists. In addition to bassist Dustin Moore, vocalist Eddie Cole (grandson of Nat King) and trumpeter and keyboardist Tom Terrell, Z includes a rotation of other musicians who came up with them in the prestigious jazz program at Poly High School. When they’re not touring, members can be found sitting in on weekly jazz jams throughout Long Beach.
8. Wild Pack of Canaries
The birth of the sometimes-seven-piece experimental psych-prog band Wild Pack of Canaries began around 2009 with a simple question: What if The Beatles and Hella made an album? Combining pristine pop sensibilities with dissonant, prog-rock nihilism is exactly the kind of insane sonic breeding that led Wild Pack of Canaries to become one of Long Beach’s most popular bands of the last decade. Each element of Wild Pack has its own quirks: Singer and guitarist Rudy de Anda sings softly but wields a brutal psychedelic ax; drummer Alfred Hernandez is a spastic ball of improvisational beats; guitarist J.P. Bendzinski is an adept tone wizard; and Matisse Ibarra stands behind a mess of electronics, ready to trip everything out with atmospheric weirdness. A rotation of horn players rounds out the band, which is at its freaky best on 2013’s In the Parian Flesh.
7. The Pyramids
Though they seem to sonically fit in with all the other white-bread surf rock of the mid-1960s, everything about The Pyramids was contrarian. Willie Glover, their left-handed lead guitarist, was black (his genre-defying R&B crooning can also be heard on the band’s B-sides). They often showed up to shows in helicopters and on elephants, purposefully upstaging limo-arriving headliners like The Beach Boys. And when the British Invasion hit the States, Glover and co. shaved their heads, performing in Beatles-esque shaggy wigs before shaking them off to reveal shiny dome-tops. The name of their biggest hit was “Penetration,” a lascivious title for two minutes of sandy, sunny instrumental rock. A shady manager and the Vietnam War draft killed The Pyramids, but their wild stage antics and anti-establishment approach to pop means we will always remember them as the band that made surf rock punk as fuck.
6. Avi Buffalo
Avi Buffalo is what emo should have sounded like when we were in high school. Fronted by the talented and tormented (aren’t they all?) Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg and his old-soul, jazz-blues chops, Avi Buffalo took poetic songs about pervy teen thoughts and unrequited love and gave them so much noodly pep that the music industry had no choice but to take notice. Did we mention the band was fresh out of high school (one was even still a senior) when they inked a two-record deal with legendary Sub Pop Records in 2010? But after touring the world and playing major festivals, Avi Buffalo broke up — as most high school relationships do — and Zahner-Isenberg landed back home, writing and recording out of a van parked in his parents' driveway. He continues to release trippy solo records and plays around Long Beach constantly, both as Avi Buffalo and with various friends' projects.
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