2001/09/29, DIYRG, Chico, CA (USA)

I'm really glad that the DIYRG is starting to have some shows again, even if they are the occasional 'invite only' type. This is the perfect situation for the garage-turned-practice space; low key gatherings, nothing for "The Law" to get in a tizzy about, and if you go, you're "in the know", and we all know how important that is. Of course you can get the low down on these types of events by visiting www.chicolist.com and signing up for the weekly e-mail listing of upcoming shows in Chico and the surrounding areas; that's how I found out about the show. The audience was an odd mix of people; some were too cool to talk, some didn't look like they normally saw bands that weren't on MTV, and many were there strictly to envelop themselves in the awesome sound of rawk.

I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed with Stars Upon Thars. This being first time I've witnessed the group, I was blown away by their amount of talent. Variety is their special sauce. After beginning the set with a mellow but moving instrumental they switched instruments and tore into an indie-punk song, equal parts melody and aggression. Micha Warren has a knack for lead vocals. With his Bono sunglasses and lanky frame wilting to the pounding drums, he poured emotion through the microphone in buckets, crying laments and burning effigies. He and Curtis Zinn spent equal time on guitars and drums, switching off throughout the set. It was apparent that they had a flair for dynamics as the sudden ruckus of crash cymbals and distortion broke the gentle moments of their set.

As Aubrey Pope belted out power chords on her six-string, Zeke Rogers smacked out the bottom end on bass, occasionally switching to drums or guitar. And then the harmonized screaming... yummy. The one thing that looked a bit contrived was when three of them simultaneously leaped into the air - it looked as if they had practiced it. If it seems rehearsed, it comes off goofy. Pope's self-deprecation was also a bit out of place since she rocked as hard as anyone else. She needs to spend some quality time listening to some confidence rock like Journey or Chicago... no more of this 'I-don't-know-why-they-even-let-me-sing' stuff, go balls out. Nevertheless they were great and I give them the ol' stamp of approval and will happily attend more of their shows.

Important rock show lesson: take separate cars if there's any possibility that your friends will want to leave early. I missed a few songs of Blue Score's set because a few friends of mine are pussies. Pussies, I tell you. Luckily I made it back in time for the second half of their show. Emo-core meets Radiohead. They too displayed a great use of dynamics that kept their songs interesting the whole way through.

Brian Peacock and Michael Lee shared guitar / vocal duties for the most part, taking turns with the leads. Instrumentally, they had a good sense of build as guitar and bass parts would slowly develop into a barrage of churning power. They also had good chemistry; if one member started playing a busy guitar or bass part, the others would back off and let it breathe. They also get points for being positive and respectful, encouraging all of their friends who made up much of the crowd to stay all the way through Chokebore's set. The rhythm section, comprised of Dustin Abbott (bass) and Randy Gruber (drums), rocked back and forth through the scattered patches of discordant droning guitars while keeping the beat solid. I may not be an aficionado on emo, but that didn't stop me from enjoying their show. They too get my stamp of approval.

The show closed with Chokebore, a band that I was not familiar with until that evening. I was really surprised to learn that most of the audience that remained at the DIYRG was from out of town - primarily Sacramento, Davis and the Bay Area. As it turns out, this was Chokebore's only Northern California gig and the audience found out about the show through the band's Web site. They weren't as heavy as emo-core tends to be and they were too obscure to be simply referred to as rock... I don't know what you'd call the music besides exceptional raw uncompromising soul food.

Troy Miller, guitarist and vocalist had reptilian stage presence, contorting his face with ungiving emotion and drawling into the mic. "We're going to attempt a song that is neither touching nor moving", deadpanned the singer with a detached air. Slightly behind the beat, his sensual voice delivered words fraught with pain and tension. He had the audience hanging on every last sad word.

John Kroll's guitar playing was simple, but he couldn't have played one more note without losing that blinding power. Chokebore's odd combination of pop sensibility and angst-filled cacophony was something I'd never seen the likes of. A slowly churning trance with solid, solid drumming, root note bass playing, and sweeping strums on dual Telecasters; it was exquisitely fitting for the first day of autumn. They pleased the crowd with a slew of new numbers as well as old favorites, and left us all wanting more. Chokebore couldn't be a less accurate name for the band; they didn't choke and were far boring. Damn, I should have bought one of their albums while I was there. I'm definitely going to have to track one down.... and they too get my stamp and blessing.

Maurice Spencer Teilmann

Synthesis