Editor's note: Two weekends ago writer Ryan Ritchie traveled with Long Beach band On Blast as they gigged at the debut of the annual Goliath Festival in Mexico City. He submitted a report on the gig, which West Coast Sound will be running in installments this week. What follows is part one.
Few items on the rock 'n' roll bucket list are as difficult to accomplish as performing on the main stage at an international festival. The average group lucky enough to reach this level of success usually has at least one top-selling record, thousands of miles on its tour van/bus and a devoted fanbase patient enough to sit through scores of acts before seeing the band they paid to see. Signal Hill's On Blast has none of the aforementioned, yet the band – singer Josh Brown and multi-instrumentalists Travis Raab, Tone Blair and Andy Kiddoo – was part of the first annual Goliath Festival in Mexico City last weekend.
The all-day event combined hip-pop such as the Black Eyed Peas with Spanish hip-hop/reggaeton from Pitbull and Calle 13 and indie/electro such as Crystal Castles, the Faint, Fischerspooner and Shiny Toy Guns. This mish mash of sounds complimented On Blast well as the quartet takes beats reminiscent of Dr. Dre and adds keys ala Booker T., funky blues riffs and ethereal vocals like a male-fronted Portishead.
For a largely unknown group accustomed to playing dives such as Long Beach's Prospector Family Restaurant, the opportunity to play Goliath meant having to learn how to be a professional act. Everything from transporting gear on an airplane, getting work visas and soundchecking the day before a gig (as opposed to when they're setting up) were hurdles that didn't do anything to calm the nerves that came from the thought of playing in front of thousands of people for the first time.
Here, for your reading pleasure, is a play-by-play account of how a band transforms from dismally attended weeknight gigs to main stage festival act.
Before we get into that, though, here's an MP3 from On Blast:
On Blast – “Cloud 1” [MP3]
“I've never disliked a sink, but I think I dislike this one.”
The foursome arrived at the hotel around 8 p.m. and was under strict orders to not get drunk by Streetlife Records co-chairmen Pablito Vasquez and Jerry Heller. But when Vasquez and Heller weren't around, shots of tequila with Clamato chasers and free margaritas came and went like a summertime El Porto swell. Sitting a few tables away were Crystal Castles' crew members, who On Blast met earlier in the lobby and would see often throughout the weekend.
With an early morning wake-up call looming, the members retreated to their respective rooms. They hadn't seen much of Mexico City yet, but Thursday was merely a flight day. But that didn't prevent Raab from having a few impressions.
“I haven't seen anything yet,” Raab said. “I drove over a big hill in the dark and couldn't see anything. Then I drove down a big hill in the dark and then I came to a hotel. My opinions of Mexico City are more based on what other people have told me to be ready for. Everyone who walks near me, I'm like, 'who is this guy?' And that's everyone else's fears.
“Tomorrow is soundcheck. I expect the stage to be really big and even after a three-hour soundcheck, I won't think that's enough. I can't conceptualize what 50,000 people is.”
“Which van is mine?”
Band members and crew convened in the hotel lobby at 7:15 a.m. The party of eight was greeted by the brisk Mexican morning while waiting for vans to arrive to take them to soundcheck. While loading gear into one of two vehicles, Kiddoo announced, “I just had three shots of espresso, so let's see how that goes.”
A seasoned act might expect delays at soundcheck, but considering how On Blast was set to arrive at the very un- rock 'n' roll hour of 8 a.m., the members assumed things would be operating on time. They weren't. The cold Mexican air was long gone and the sun had been penetrating the stage for nearly two hours before On Blast fiddle with “Optimistic.” Once levels are in place, the band performs less than 30 minutes, a far cry from the three hours they thought they were getting.
“What the fuck was up with the wait?” Brown asks. “I was so taken back by the immensity of the whole thing and the stage, so I had a lot to look at while I was waiting. Compared to other soundchecks, this was way more in depth. I didn't know what I wanted, but after a minute I realized it just had to sound pretty good.”
After soundcheck, the band returned to the hotel for a nap, and when Kiddoo, Brown, Blair and Raab reconvened in the lobby, each was refreshed and eager for an upcoming press conference in the swanky Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City. With a clearer head, Brown was able to process the soundcheck and how that experience could help with the next day's show.
“I think I'll be able to move around that stage,” Brown said. “I don't have any other choice at this point. On this trip, I've had this attitude like, 'fuck it.' I know what we've done in the past and I use that if a doubt comes in my head. This show really feels like a make or break because of the immensity behind it. I was looking at the stage wondering, 'how many days have they been setting that up?' Then I looked at the amount of workers and thought how we've barely played to that many people.”
The drive to the press conference was infinitely more exciting than the press conference itself (the band discovered that red lights and turn signals don't mean anything in Mexico City). This is to be expected of a local act that not only hasn't played this country before, but hasn't seen a stage outside of California. Interpreter Luis Quinza began a five-minute monologue on the group and its label Street Life Records. While doing so, the mystery of whether or not On Blast spoke Spanish was answered with a resounding “no” thanks to the completely blank stares on each member's face. After Quinza's interpretations, the typical “who writes the songs,” “where did you meet” and “are you excited to play” questions were answered with little hesitation, but it was the female reporter sitting in the front row who asked about On Blast's take on the world economy that stumped the foursome. The hour-long Q&A returned to a more light-hearted motif when Raab told the 20 journalists in attendance, “We're here to rock your entire country.”
After dinner, a mini-party transpired in Brown and Kiddoo's hotel room and the fact that On Blast doesn't need to be in the lobby until 20 minutes before 2 p.m. turned room 1025 into the smokiest after-hours club in all of Mexico City.
Tomorrow: The Goliath Festival begins … with massive hangovers.