March 15, 2008

Some nights ago I swung by San Francisco’s Café Du Nord to catch the Entrance Band, a psychedelic trio from LA that is riding a wave equally composed of fuzz and buzz. It was the Noise Pop festival, and the crowd was full of groovy twentysomethings moving and shaking, in denim and suits and skirts, with thin-brimmed fedoras making a particularly notable showing. I hunkered down in front of the stage with my pint of bitter, chatting with bearded young men who were most psyched for what we were about to witness.

Trios are the most musically honest of rock combos: the singing is often secondary, and the guitarist has to carry a huge load. All sorts of interesting modulations between riff and solo are possible, with the wank potential of the latter restrained by the need to sustain the flow with a thickness of tone and a rhythmic sinuousness. In a trio, everyone has to be up to snuff, and all three of these characters—guitarist Guy Blakeslee, drummer Derek James, and bassist Paz Benchantin—were up to their nostrils in the stuff. Ferocious entertainment.

Usually I only stick around past the first couple songs if the drummer is actually saying something, or at least respects the groove and does not rely on cymbals and bash to conjure up energy. Derek James was definitely on—he played with intensity but without slop, he held the beats tight while shifting the center within and between songs. But I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to the guy because I was getting all weak-kneed before Blakeslee’s guitar.

A lanky lefty with long hair and skinny wrists, Blakeslee’s one of the best young rock players I have seen in a while. His restless intensity is balanced with a methodical cool, and he managed to fuse far more eras and styles than your more typical devotion to ’60s blues-rock requires. Along with reviving the bends and boogie of Fillmore West lysergia, he also explored a raft of later metal and psych styles, including some minor key and middle-eastern modes that added witchiness to the bemushroomed killin floor. He also milked much fun from dense clusters of melodic hammer-ons that reminded me of, believe it or not, Eddie Van Halen (and that’s a compliment, chumps!). And while Blakeslee coaxed lots of delicious analog-sounding spooge out of his rack of FX, he was also perfectly willing to exploit the more crystalline echo labyrinth of fully digital effects.

Looking past the long hair and the classic Fenders, I saw a band that was way more Now that retro. Just the way that Brett Morgan’s new animated doc has rebranded the Chicago Seven as the Chicago Ten, the Entrance Band has rebranded ‘60s political and sonic clamor into something that a slicker, media-saturated era can embrace. Their riffs are not pop, but the band has an infectious charm that will, I hope, take them beyond the velvet ghetto of contemporary psych.

I mostly chalk up to this charm to their sense of the beat, which has definitely passed through the eras of disco and New Wave and survived. Bassist Paz Leenchantin, who both fulfilled and transcended the archetype of the chick bassist, devoted herself to a steady pulse that communicated both conviction and pop propulsion. A couple times, and without the usual feel-good grin, she raised her hands over her head to clap out the beat with the crowd. There was something almost communal about it, like she wanted to draw the audience back into the Movement through shared fusion in the beat. The band’s political lyrics—”M.L.K.,” etc.—were similarly earnest but mostly seemed kinda dumb to me. But I didn’t care. I just sipped my ale and waited for Blakeslee’s squalls to bust their moves. Okay, I clapped along with everyone too.