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Tuesday, November 16, 2010 review on Rev It Up!

A diverse night of psychobilly kicked off the new year: Final Days, Liquor-N-Poker, The Vagrant Dead

January 4, 9:53 PMLA Rockabilly/Psychobilly ExaminerKim Kattari

Spike’s Bar and Billiards in Rosemead was the place to be last Friday (January 1st) if you wanted to kick in the first night of the new decade with some psychobilly-hybrid style.
I arrived as guest DJ Johnny Eagle was spinning a diverse a set of punk, rockabilly, and psychobilly, including Fifi’s punk-tinged cover of The English Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom” from the SLC Punk soundtrack.
As I settled in, Final Days took the stage and launched into their set without hesitation, despite the lead singer’s long battle with a fierce and persistent cold. Phil’s speech-song warble vocal style reminded me of a cross between Vic Victor from Koffin Kats and Nick 13 from Tiger Army. The band is also inspired by Misfits, as evidenced by a cover of “Astro Zombies” and another song that sounded quite like “I Turned Into a Martian.”
But what the San Gabriel Valley-based band really brings to the table is a hybrid style that mixes different types of punk, psychobilly, rockabilly, metal, and ska/reggae. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in their last song of the set, “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly in Me.” The song was a medley of different genres, with a ska/reggae bridge here, a hardcore metal break there, and a killer rockabilly guitar lick thrown in over there.
When I talked to the band later, Phil explained the inspiration behind the song: “We put a little bit of everything that we’re musically influenced by into that song. I was also reading The Alchemist at the time, and watching Clint Eastwood movies.” Along with classic Coelho novels and Western films, they noted other influences: Hector (guitarist, and Phil’s brother) would love to play with AFI and his favorite horror movie is Dracula; Mosquito (drummer and stand-up comic, providing most of the ba-dum-chh commentary between songs) was inspired by The Addicts and, fittingly, likes comedies more than horror movies.

"The After Party" from Liquor-N-Poker: rocka-punk-ska-silly?
Next up was Liquor-N-Poker from Ritchie Valens’ hometown of Pacoima, with a clever double entendre name (sound it out) that suited their fun and often outright goofy style. Few bands attempt the “drummer as lead singer” approach (The Chop Tops are a great example; check out other examples of lead singer-drummers here), but Kurlee does a great job keeping the beat while singing melodic punk vocals in a style akin to Bad Religion, The Offspring, Pennywise, and Rancid.
Like Final Days, Liquor-N-Poker boasts a diverse set of influences (from The Living End to Sublime to Reverend Horton Heat to Less Than Jake) that has blended to form a hybrid style of, well, what exactly should we call this? Punk-a-billy? Punk-ska-billy? Rocka-punk-ska-silly? It’s definitely not your typical psychobilly, for as the band told me after the show, their music is “more happy” and “more about real life” than the horror-infused mock macabre subjects so typical of most psychobilly.
Whatever you want to call their music, it’s definitely fun and catchy. From the toe-tapping snare-heavy honky-tonk beat of “She Left Me For An Italian” to the anthemic NOFX-like punk of “Living It Up” to the head-boppin’ ska-infused rockabilly of “Don’t Put Your Clothes On” (check out their entertaining video for the song below), Liquor-N-Poker keeps it exciting and fresh.
Kurlee, his brother Noe (on bass), and Manny (on guitar), have been playing together as a band since 1998, so they have the stamina it takes to keep going in the under-appreciated local music biz. They’ve released their debut album, The After Party (on Prime Music Group), which showcases their diverse mix of punk, rockabilly, ska, reggae, classic rock and metal, along with their sing-along harmonies. (Review of the album coming soon. Check back here at or at Support Liquor-N-Poker by buying their CD here.
As The Vagrant Dead got ready to take the stage I could already tell what made them unique: they sported two basses – one upright, one electric. I asked them after the show about their decision to feature simultaneous basses. Cesar (electric) and Joaquin (upright) noted that it allowed them to express their hardcore punk/metal influence at the same time as their rockabilly/country-western sound. Sometimes they synchronize their bass lines, but at other times the bassists take turns leading, giving each other room in the mix while also providing a much fuller sound.

The Vagrant Dead growled and swung and stomped their boots (photo by Kim Kattari).
 Once they started to play, it was an entirely different thing that stood out to me: Jesse’s voice. At first I thought there had to be some distortion effect on the vocal mic, but I quickly realized it’s just his voice – raspy, growling, throaty, and, to be honest, just plain scary. You’d expect to hear vocals done this way in hardcore death metal, but it’s rare to come upon this in psychobilly (the notable exception being Demented Are Go), especially The Vagrant Dead’s style of country-western-tinged, boot-stomping, Tom Waits/Johnny Cash-inspired punk-psychobilly en espaƱol.
I also asked them how they came up with their name (by the way, it was simply a coincidence that the band’s initials – “V.D.” – suggested the possible consequences of “Liquor-N-Poker”). Jesse (whose father is a preacher) pointed out that it’s a bible reference, as well as a theme used by Stephen King. Joaquin added: “The vagrant dead and skeletons are like rock ‘n’ roll itself. It just keeps going and changing. Rock is still wandering around. It doesn’t die.” This sums up exactly what this band is doing – combining the old with the new in their pastiche of influences: Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Demented Are Go, Misfits, The Beatles, The Stones, The Ramones, and contemporary hardcore metal.
All in all, this was not your typical psychobilly night. The hybridity of the music last Friday was a welcome change of pace. I hope each of these bands continues to diversify their music, drawing inspiration from a range of genres and cultural influences.
Kudos to "Rev It Up" and Brando Von Badsville for booking local bands that don’t limit themselves to narrow definitions of psychobilly. Click here to check out reviews of Brando Von Badsville’s Rev It Up shows at Spike’s from LA Times and LA Weekly.
Also, I have to give props to the sound guy, Cesar, who was brilliant at leveling out each of different instruments so that the crowd could easily distinguish the bass from the guitar from the clear vocals, and so on. It’s so rare to hear great sound in a small punk-psychobilly venue. Nicely done!