Monday, September 17, 2012

LobsterFest Braves Heat with Great Music

NOTE: All LobsterFest music (except the first KROQ band winner) curated by Mark Sovel, aka @MisterShovel.

The annual LobsterFest in San Pedro is many things to many people. To some, it's a chance to eat massive amounts of lobster and drink lots of beer. To others, they are there to take their sweetie on a few rides and have some food.

To me (and increasingly to other music cognoscenti), it's about the music. Mr. Shovel's music, to be specific.

Anyone who knows Mark Sovel, aka Mr. Shovel, from Indie 103 (its beloved music director) or his Internet radio project, Radio Free Indie, or from his now must-listen astounding music show every Saturday night from 7-10 pm on Sky Daniels' reinvigorated KCSN (City of Night), knows that his music choices are unique and a quite bit of genius.

On his radio show, you never know if it's going to be a local band, a new artist or a "legend," but whatever the mix, it's intriguing. So, too, with LobsterFest.

I have been dipping my foot into the LobsterFest mix in the past few years, sometimes just going Saturday. Then the last couple years, both Saturday and Sunday. But I know that, for me, I need to hear City of Night from the first note to the last. I need to hear the music composition that Mr. Shovel compiles in its totality.

This year, I made a commitment to hearing LobsterFest from nearly the first note to the last. Listening to every band (I missed the KROQ band winners who were first and also Sara Radle, but other than that, I heard every band). Here are my observations of the weekend.


I'm glad that I missed the only non-Shovel-chosen band of the fest, makes it more pure somehow. My LobsterFest kicked off with Indie favorite Great Northern.

I have long loved their music, but their stage show continues to evoke all the passion of a couple who play music together. It was intense and dramatic. Amazing how two people alone on a stage can whip up such an intense presentation. Loved them, and it was a very fitting beginning.

They were followed by another Radio Free Indie favorite, Races.

They gave a lighter presentation, more of a breather after Great Northern. They were frothy and fun.

Last of the night were local favorite Saint Motel. Here's where Shovel's expertise comes in. Each night, the evening ended (as one would want it to) with an anticipated flavor. A band with a following, which would leave you happily remembering their music as you walked out.

(Photo courtesy of Leah Saga)

The theme of Friday night was "Locals Only." All three local bands. All three very different flavors of music, but all hot and worth watching. Saint Motel has a big following with the ladies (being a band of hot young guys).

I loved how this picture turned out: Guys onstage. Girls watching them. Says it all.


Saturday was about two things: the heat. (Dear GOD, the HEAT!!!!) And the ladies.

For a long time, I was under the misimpression that women's music didn't factor into Mr. Shovel's choices often. I officially and publicly take that statement back. Cause there it was, from Sara Radle to kick it off on Saturday to the huge finish with the Dum Dum Girls (with the stunning Lili Hayden in the middle), Saturday was about all flavors of women.

Oh, and here's another wonderful thing about this year's LobsterFest: in between acts, Mr. Shovel announced all the bands. It gave the whole event a professional cohesion, and made you feel like he was welcoming us to his home with some personally selected music.

(Photo courtesy of Leah Saga)

(One sincerely hopes that the management continues this tradition.) Shovel gave us little tidbits about each band (as he does on his radio show).

With Davis Fetter, for example, the second act of the day, he enlightened us that Mr. Fetter's previous band was one we knew and loved from Indie: Venus Infers.

A strong submission. I look forward to hearing more from him.

Here's another thing I've come to learn about the music at Mr. Shovel's LobsterFest. There will be plenty of bands I don't know. (Much as on his radio show.) But by now, Mr. Shovel has made a name around town (and around the world) with his taste-making choices. So I knew that even the bands with strange sounding names were going to be an enjoyable experience.

Here's the first such: Damselles and TC4. Never heard of 'em. But WOW. Wait. Let me show you.

Note where the crowd is (in the shade). The line before them where the sun begins was blistering heat. Blistering. As the shade moved up, the crowd moved up. It was quite comical. Very nearly unbearable, and I'm sure it affected attendance.

Ah, but back to Damselles and TC4:

Those red-hot mamas in their red fringe dresses and lobster hats knocked me out with their sweet harmonies. And the guys in the band were all wearing lobster ties. It was sweetness. So perky, so wonderful. It made the heat much easier to bear.

So remember that name: Damselles and TC4. Another thing about  bands that play LobsterFest (thanks to Mr. Shovel): you'll often see them later on Jimmy Kimmel or Letterman, as they shoot to the top. So actually, remember all these bands' names.

One last shot of the cheeky young lasses:

Loved them.

One such band (soon shooting to stardom, likely) is Youngblood Hawke. As you can see here:

Their hot, touseld-hair singer led a raucous rock set. They were so on fire, at one point, their power blew out.

I had very few quibbles with the presentation of acts at this year's LobsterFest. By and large, I enjoyed it from beginning to end. One such quibble though was with Taiko Project. Mind you, Taiko Project were at last year's LobsterFest. They took my (and everyone else's) breath away. They are a stunning group, an amazing display of musicianship and choreography showcasing the poetry of taiko drumming.

When I spoke of last year's LobsterFest to friends, invariably, they were the first group I mentioned.

So I was really looking forward to seeing them again this year.

What I discovered, though, is that with the combination of the sunshine (beating down) and the heat (even more beating down)... the magic of Taiko Project was lost. They are a band which needs to be seen under cover of darkness, when everyone is quiet and paying attention. People chatting and walking around really doesn't lend itself to seeing Taiko Project.

That said, they are worth seeing, and seeking out.

One of the highlights of this year's LobsterFest, that I'll be speaking about when I talk about it to friends between now and next year's LobsterFest is Lili Hayden. I always had a vague memory of liking her music, but I wasn't sure why, other than I'd heard Mr. Shovel play her. She left an indelible impression this time.

In his introduction, Mr. Shovel spoke about how George Clinton (Parliament Funkadelic) referred to her as "the Jimi Hendrix of violin." Pretty high praise, that. As she was about to prove, well warranted. Wow.

So many things about this performance.

First, on the right side of the stage, there was a guy who continuously painted. Art, during the show. It was amazing.

(Photo courtesy of Leah Saga)

But the other art, the music, was just as amazing. Her violin, her voice, her singers. All in all, a stunning and incredible musicianship on display.

(Photo courtesy of Leah Saga)

Even now, thinking about how great Lili Hayden was, just makes me swoon. A real highlight. (Photo below, courtesy of Leah Saga.)

Then, to balance her powerful femininity, a whallop of maleness with local boys No.
As the freighters rolled by, No's rock knocked us out.

(Photo courtesy of Leah Saga)

At dinner, the night before, my friend and I had been discussing this concept of the "supergroup" (a band made up of members of other bands). The next band, JJAMZ, is such a band. A supergroup. Indie 103 fans will remember Z from The Like (who played Indie's first Christmas party). Others may cotton to the Maroon 5 member of the band. Well, wherever they came from, I love JJAMZ as it is.

Z brought her own brand of girlish femininity, speaking about her transparent top that she spilled water on (girlish giggle). JJAMZ was also quite memorable.

 Many of these bands have their songs prominently playing on Radio Free Indie right now (which I listen to constantly). But of them, JJAMZ's Heartbeat is one of the catchiest. I find myself humming it constantly. Their live peformance of this hit did not disappoint.

As you peruse the crowd throughout the LobsterFest day, you see plenty of people in shorts and just trying to stay cool. Every once in awhile though, you see someone and just know that they have to be in a band. When the statuesque blonde with the black stockings sauntered through, I had such a thought.

Sure enough, she turned out to be the lead singer in Dum Dum Girls. (There was a lot of the blonde, brunette, redhead thing between the girl singers. Not sure if that was intentional, or just happened that way.)

So while Friday brought out the hipster LA crowd, Dum Dum Girls brought out the alternative set. Like the boys of Saint Motel the night before, the Girls of Dum Dum pleased the crowd immensely.

(JJAMZ and Dum Dum Girls photos courtesy of Leah Saga) 


I got there early on Sunday, as the empty chairs still lingered in the audience. I knew the first band was Neveready. The only thing I'd heard about the band was that "someone's son" was in the band. Which automaticallly makes me cringe and prepare for the worst. But then I figured out that said someone was none other than radio god and San Diego legend Mike Halloran (now at 91X again). So I vowed to suspend judgment and disbelief. Still, nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.

By now, everyone was used to Mr. Shovel announcing all the bands.

But there was this guy on stage, whom the promo guy said was "our lead guitar tech, Lil Buddy." If I'd thought about this for a moment (having seen more than half the bands, and never seen this guy before, I would've thought... how odd... but I didn't). OK. Sure.

The guy kinda looks like Gilligan, wearing a red shirt and white sailor's hat. He's testing the equipment, saying things into the microphones like "syphillis." (Hm, ok.)

"Lil Buddy" looks like he's about to walk offstage, as the band comes parading up through the crowd, playing their instruments. Then Lil Buddy too, takes up a guitar, and starts jamming and the ruse is revealed.

(Photo courtesy of Leah Saga)

You may not have had your coffee yet, but by this time in Sunday's festivities, I'll tell you, Neveready got your eyes open.

(Photo courtesy of Leah Saga)

They were by far the most choreographed of any band that played this LobsterFest. They were engaging with the crowd, making one poor lady blush, laying down on the ground with her, while still playing.

(Photo courtesy of Leah Saga)

They rocked the house and put it on fire. Whatever I was expecting from this first Sunday band, I was NOT expecting Neveready.

They were easily one of my favorite bands of the weekend. They were not only choreographed, they did tableau movements (where they freeze in place). It was stunning and amazing. Danced to some ska, they were all over the place.

(Photo courtesy of Leah Saga)

My breath was seriously taken away by Neveready. I really didn't even want to see any more bands after them.

The boys of Neveready, with a grateful fan at the (fully functional this year) merch table.

But this burst of energy was only beginning the day's festivities. Next up:

What was billed as "Captain Jeffrey and the Chumbuckets" turned out to be an expanded band which called themselves the "California Feetwarmers." Not that our feet needed warming, but our souls certainly did.

I knew it was going to be special when I looked at the arrayed musicians and saw a banjo, an accordian, a guitar, a tuba and a washboard. And a clarinet player. Wow. Extremely hard to top the exhuberance of Neveready, but wow. CA Feetwarmers was mind-blowing.

Mr. Shovel introducing the CA Feetwarmers. Look at all those instruments on stage!

The music was indeed, heartwarming. Old-timey, like you could've heard in Boardwalk Empire or something.

And wonderful lyrics, about kissing your baby in the moonlight. Sweet, charming, lovely.

But wait! There's more. Just when you thought the Feetwarmers had charmed your tired, cynical heart enough, they did this.

Came right down into the crowd and started playing for us while the next band was setting up. It was so incredible, I can't even describe it. Really really special.

Mr. Shovel, being the good journalist that he is, gets in primo spot to record this most special moment.

Next up was Battleme, from Portland, OR. Mr. Shovel noted that their music is being played a lot on "Sons of Anarchy." They spoke about how they are on a West Coast tour, since "that's what record companies do, they send you to Los Angeles."

I would recommend checking out Battleme's music. A fun listen.  (Closer and Touch are their hits on Radio Free Indie.)

Then, there was Jail Weddings. Let me preface by saying that Mr. Shovel is playing a wonderful song by them about the worst thing in the world being when a woman cries. Beautiful. Poignant.

However, as I listened to (or tried to listen to) their lyrics, I was pretty shocked. I'm not easily shocked. Let me just put it this way. One of their lyrics, if I made it out right, was about having sex with a woman who liked to be choked. And that was one of the more upbeat ones. Kinda made me gasp, these lyrics. Someone please cover that baby's ears.

I think that Jail Weddings, too, would have benefited more from the cover of darkness.

You know how the name "Jail Weddings" seems kinda cool, but kinda just off, too? Their music is like that. On the dangerous, scary dark side of kinky.

Although, I will say, their musicianship and stage presence were absolutely superb. So, all in all, not sure how I feel about Jail Weddings.

Luckily, there were big boats passing by to distract us.

And then, we have the final act of this superb wonderful music weekend, of many treasures. And who doesn't love a little rockabilly?

Believe me, there were many who really were looking forward to The Blasters. And, for those keeping score, every final act of every night (and thank you again, Mr. Shovel) was a band with a big following whose numbers showed up to enjoy. Crowds showed up for The Blasters, as they had for Saint Motel and Dum Dum Girls on the two nights previous.

And unlike 90% of regular LA audiences, who will not dance, fans of rockabilly are all about the dancing. Most of this LobsterFest even for those who wanted to dance, it was just too darn hot.

But the final show of the final night finally had a cool breeze blowing through and everyone, young, old, children, babies, dads, moms, everyone was up and dancing. Even the pirate wenches came back for a dance.

Fun was had by all. Thanks for that go to Mr. Shovel, and the coordinator Jim (who received a plaque this year), and all the wonderful people who present LobsterFest to us grateful public each and every year. Even though it was blisteringly hot, it was worth it to brave the heat to hear this dazzling array of music you laid before us.

Can't wait to do it again next year!


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