I love the stand-up bass. It's a ridiculously big, bulky instrument that looks cool as hell, especially when painted dark blue like Tiger Army's or sea green like the one used by the Guana Batz. Not the laid-back, smoky jazz club stand-up bass – those are great too – but they're too close to their natural environment. And definitely not the spinnin', jumpin', showy swing-band revivalists.
But psychobilly – well, there you go: You've got the speed, energy and aggression of punk mixed with (frequently) better musicianship than lots of other punk, and a wide spectrum of influences both musical (country, early rock, garage) and non (horror and exploitation movies, 1950s greaser culture, the odd chance of a switch-blade fight breaking out up at the Observatory). Psychobilly bands – and their fans – will much more easily embrace the kitsch than other punk off-shoots, leading to a more fun, genuinely enjoyable concert and all sorts of cool haircuts and outfits to boot.
Photos by Timothy Norris. Click here for more
Tiger Army definitely leans to the punk rock side of the psychobilly musical equation. Twelve years in, they've built a solid following that can easily fill up the Wiltern two nights running (and it doesn't even have to be Halloween) without a lot of commercial radio help. Still, KROQ had its vans hanging around, eager to associate themselves with the cool kids, even if they're still just hoping Blink-182 gets back together or that rap-metal makes a big comeback.
Despite a strictly-enforced “No Mosh Pit” policy taped on to every door to floor area, the room nearly exploded when Nick 13's band took stage. They was litlle pause for breath as the band tore through seven or eight songs at top speed, many from the band's ambitious new album, Music from Regions Beyond, such as “Pain, ” “Ghosts of Memory” and “Hotprowl.”
Just about to the point where you were beginning to wish they'd do something a little different, someone, maybe Greg Leisz, slunk out of the shadows to make good use of the pedal steel tucked far back on stage.
If there've been rumblings that Tiger Army's sound is too getting too shiny and commercial on record (and pop-punk's go-to guy for sell-out stardom Jerry Finn did produce their latest), then the blast-furnace live versions of the new songs should put minds and ears at ease. And Tiger Army's never been shy about reaching for that brass ring of fame.
But let's face it: No one's reinventing the wheel in pop music today. Yeah yeah, there are plenty of bands out there trying, but they're not selling out the Wiltern for a whole weekend. There's no reason to fault a band like Tiger Army for mixing punk, goth and 50s rocknroll and hoping the recipe ends up a big hit with the kids. Maybe you can fault them for the Hot Topic sponsorship a little, but in this day and age when no one bats an eye if you sell your song to an American Express commercial, that's a pretty benign move.
On the other side of the coin you've got Saturday's opening band, the Guana Batz, who've been plugging away for at least twice as long as Tiger Army, and for the most part have done it without a lot of people outside the scene taking note. Vocalist Pip Hancox was charming and funny, amazed that waitresses were walking around the packed general admission area serving drinks and making clear that they don't get to play beautiful theaters like the Wiltern often. Guana Batz offered an excellent history lesson in the genre, hitting on some choice covers by Eddie Cochrane and a nice re-vamp of Springsteen's “I'm on Fire” which Hancox jumped around the stage shirtless, looking like he was having a ball. True or not, you get the impression the Gunana Batz do it for love of the music – always a good thing.
All photos by Timothy Norris. Click here for more