The barrage of hyper-fast guitar and breathless bass and drums is unrelenting. Dual vocalists Dirty Walt and Flying J stand front and center, bouncing off one another like finely tuned tag-team wrestlers. The songs blur past at a startling rate, leaving the gathered, baying crowd simultaneously ecstatic and battered. This is a Year of the Dragon show, so fasten your fucking seat belts.
Year of the Dragon came to be when Dirty Walt and guitarist Spacey T left funk-rock pioneers Fishbone, a band that they helped found. The pair hooked up with Roderick “Rodcore” Palmer, who had been trying to start a band in Los Angeles for some time, and magic happened.
“The band formed the first time I left Fishbone,” confirms charismatic frontman Dirty Walt, real name Walter Adam Kibby II. “That was around 2002. I got with Rod Palmer, who is pretty much the originator of the band. We were working on the Sound Barrier project [Spacey T's recently reformed ’80s metal band], because there were going to be two lead singers. While we were waiting to get that done, we decided to try to work on some stuff together, to see if our vocals sounded good together. So we started Year of the Dragon, and haven’t stopped ever since.”
As is often the case in these situation, Year of the Dragon was a happy accident — a means to experiment and jam between other bands that were considered more important at the time. Walt left Fishbone in 2002 and was gone for about seven years before returning as part of a much-heralded reunion of the original lineup (or, as Walt puts it, the OGs). Meanwhile, he’s keeping Year of the Dragon very much alive. These are happy, artistically fulfilling days for Walt, a far cry from his Fishbone exit.
“Everything wasn’t working out,” he says. “Musically, dealing with the fellas, business — everything was just wrong. I got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Now he has two bands on the go, which, naturally, can be a pain in the ass to manage. Walt says that it’s all in the scheduling.
“If I can schedule some Fishbone time, then I put it in,” he says. “If I can schedule some Year of the Dragon time, I put that in. I try to balance it equally as best I can.”
Walt is a charming conversationalist, and an easy guy to talk to. He purrs through sentences like the coolest barfly at the hottest joint in town. He’s also concise, saying as much as he needs to, jovially, but no more. His chill demeanor doesn’t at all betray the fact that, onstage, he’s a madman — a charged machine of a performer, with a voice that bounces from hardcore growl to soulful croon to gloriously indistinguishable clicks and shrieks.
That hard edge is, in some ways, what distinguishes Year of the Dragon from Fishbone. When Fishbone want to be, that band can be heavy as all hell. Angelo Moore is an incredible frontman and singer, and the group can switch between genres at will. YOTD are a touch more straightforward in their desire to pummel. They're a heavy punk band with funk and jazz influences; with Fishbone, the spread is more even.
“[Year of the Dragon are] a little harder than Fishbone,” Walt agrees. “It still rolls under the same musical principles, per se. Like a funky rock band, for the most part. Just harder. More guitar-oriented. It’s like having a three-piece rock band with two singers.”
Walt’s co-vocalist, Flying J, joined YOTD when founding member Palmer left, and Walt says the younger man has injected some energy into the band, as well as a touch of hip-hop.
“When we first started, it was more singer-oriented,” Walt says. “We were more vocal, sing-song style. Now, it incorporates rap.”
It’s affirming to know that Year of the Dragon are still evolving, still blurring genres and still breaking down walls. After all, when Walt and Fishbone started kicking back in 1979, there were very few black people in the punk scene. Bad Brains and The Dead Kennedys’ D.H. Peligro are two of the very few exceptions. Today, Walt says that, while there are still plenty of punks out there, there isn’t much of a scene anymore.
“We do hardcore shows, punk rock shows — there seems to be plenty of people but nobody’s pushing the shows out there,” he says.
One local exception is Cafe Nela, the much-loved Cypress Park punk rock hangout and venue, which sees dozens of like-minded bands perform every week. Walt says it’s one of his favorite spots to play, which is good because Year of the Dragon are there this week, on a bill with the aforementioned D.H. Peligro’s band, Peligro.
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“He’s a brother who just won’t be smashed,” Walt says.
Dirty Walt says that we can expect a rowdy Year of the Dragon set on the night — one that will burn our eyebrows right off. More pointedly, he says we should expect the unexpected. That’s a band theme, after a decade and a half of smashing musical convention. Anything can happen, and probably will.
There’s a new YOTD album being worked out right now, while Fishbone’s original members are tightening up for a busy summer. All of which means that life isn’t going to get any more sedate for Dirty Walt anytime soon.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Year of the Dragon play with Peligro and Negro Galactus at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, March 2, at Cafe Nela.