The Uptown Oakland was the emergency landing spot for this amazing show that got bumped from the suddenly defunct Independent Brewing Company. Special shout out to Julio from Between Your Teeth/Uptown for wrestling this banger from the fatally sharp mandibles of gentrification. They provided a cool little outdoor stage set up usually reserved for stand-up nights and quieter events. Not this night, Garfunkle, not this night.
Up first was Xaina, a one woman electric acoustic Rock ‘n’ Roll juggernaut. I was transfixed by her frantic chord changes and her smart, hard charging vocal style. Usually accompanied by different versions of the band Stranger Than Fact, Xaina’s stripped down, gritty performance was as strong and entertaining as any full band. Xaina’s unique and aggressive sound can be best summed up by her outfit that evening: a pair of blown-out Chucks, fishnet stockings, a red flannel buttoned at the top and a large shop knife tucked into her front pocket…. Rock and Roll as all get out.
Second on the bill were the local heroes in Between Your Teeth. Solid, mid-tempo Punk-and-Roll gems were doled out one right after the other. Occasionally these gents get compared to Social Distortion for their overall sound and vibe, but BYT’s songs are a bit more flavorful and gritty. It’s Punk Rock with a Rock-a-Billy twang around the edges. They used this night to try out a bunch of new material and there was nary a clunker in the bunch. There were a few false starts, but when a band has been together this long and is this comfortable with each other, screw ups become part of the entertainment. There was lots of laughter, a little good natured name calling, and then it all fell into place. These guys are always a reliable pile of fun and are not to be missed.
Third slot went to the touring band, Se Vende. On the road from San Diego, I was really looking forward to catching these guys. I kinda got to see them at Awesome Fest this year. By “kinda” I mean, after a twelve hour drive, so many high fives and hugs I thought my arms were going to fall off, an inordinate amount of loud talking and copious amounts of alcohol consumption, my brain’s ability to process audio ceased to function. Unfortunately, this auditory shut-down occurred right before Se Vende’s set. Still, somehow I knew what was being played was something that I liked very much, or WOULD like if I could ever get my processors back.
I was incredibly juiced to find out they were coming through town. Louie finally got the show locked down at Independent Brewing Company when disaster struck. Some rich yuppy tech bro bought a million dollar condo in the big city and was chagrinned to find the local craft brewer next door was having shows. We didn’t always shut ’em down by 10PM, but we sure tried our damnedest. Hey, it’s Oakland, who’s gonna bitch? Apparently the new rich neighbors, that’s who. Long story short, no more shows at the Indy. Everyone was left stranded and casting about blindly in the hellscape that is the last-minute-East-Bay-show scramble. Then out of the fog came Julio! He is not only the hot-rockin’, face-meltin’ guitarist of Between Your Teeth fame, he’s also the manager of the Uptown… after some wranglin’, the party was a go once more!
But, back to Se Vende. Tucked nicely into the La Escalera family, this San Diego trio sounds more like a rowdy first-gen Gilman band… I mean like A LOT! Grimple immediately leaps to mind. But to the uninitiated, I’m referring to the rough-and-tumble no man’s land between Pop Punk and Hardcore that was a signature East Bay sound in the 80s and early 90s. It’s rough dudes who lived rough lives and are living to tell you about it in a way that is fast and loud. Yet, at the same time, somehow melodic and heartfelt. It’s gritty and quick, loud and snotty, sometimes fun and sometimes sad, but always real. Like when you drop a freshly buttered slab of toast party side down. You know your gonna eat it, and the grit on top seems to make it even more real and enjoyable. Now that I can actually hear what these guys are playing, I loved it even more than I thought I would. Se Vende is currently on tour, and if you’ve already missed them live, do yourself a favor and pick up/download their stuff. They’re amazing and they’re winning over hearts across the land. Let yours be one of them.
Closing the night out was a stalwart “we don’t give a crap that it’s Thursday and the crowd is thinning” set by the fantastic Reunions. When I first heard these guys, I’ll have to admit, I didn’t quite get it. On first blush, Reunions reminds me of Western Settings (which makes sense, since Reunions is also on La Escalera Records) or Nothington somewhat. Neither of those are at all bad things. But that’s a new world for me and one that I maybe haven’t explored enough.
When I really got to sit and watch them play, Reunions hit me right in the ticker. Their songs are deceptively complex, but not inaccessible. They have great melodies with a serious voice. A big part of my newfound love for this band was the fact that they did what every great group of professional musicians do when the weeknight herd starts thinning, they poured it on. That’s right, it felt like as the set was moving along, they were ramping up. It was so brave and and heartfelt, you couldn’t help but fall in love with these lugs. We were shootin’ the shit after their set and got a chance to thank them for killing it in the sometimes spiritually challenging final weeknight slot. They couldn’t be friendlier or more gracious. I went in to the show not even really thinking about Reunions and came out of there a die-hard fan. It just goes to show the power of people getting together for shows and how a few minutes on one night can change minds. I’m always so relieved after all these years that this kind of thing still happens.