Shannon and the Clams & Tropa Magica at the Belly Up Tavern

Shannon and the Clams showcased some garage doo-wop dance tunes to the Belly Up Tavern after Tropa Magica brought the house down.

The Belly Up Tavern played host to an unofficial pre-Desert Daze showcase on October 10th, featuring Oakland’s Shannon and the Clams and East Los Angeles’s Tropa Magica (formerly Thee Commons). Shannon and the Clams had been touring for much of 2018 when Tropa Magica decided to join them for a few bouts in the west. That night, both bands were joined by San Diego’s own Spooky Cigarette. Thankfully, each group brought something different for the Wednesday night crowd.

The Belly Up is a venue that’s worth the half-hour drive to Solana Beach. It’s big enough for touring bands to choose it over something smaller in San Diego, like the Casbah (another good venue in its own right), but still intimate enough for a disco ball over the dance floor. The heavy use of wood paneling throughout the space gives a homey, neighborhood bar-feel to the venue. Additionally, there’s a large shark suspended over one of the bars, with glowing red eyes staring eerily into the crowd. For an October show, the venue worked perfectly. It’s spooky season, baby!

First up on the Belly Up’s cozy stage (no barricades or front-row security here) was Spooky Cigarette. Beginning promptly at nine o’clock, they played a short, twenty-minute set as the 21+ crowd began filling the floor. Spooky Cigarette’s mellow, synth-heavy sound was well-received, while their style oozed Halloween vibes.

After what felt like an abnormally long delay, Tropa Magica took the stage and instantly got the crowd moving. The self-proclaimed “psychedelic cumbia punk” four-piece from East LA is known for their energetic live shows, so much so that LA Weekly praised them by declaring “if [they] aren’t the best live band in Los Angeles, they’re damn near the top.” The band played for roughly forty-five minutes, showcasing some songs from their debut, self-titled record released just last month. At the end of their set, they invited two fans on stage to play the tambourine and the cowbell – I believe it was a cowbell. In any event, the two appeared to be having the time of their lives. As the band exited the stage around half-past ten, it was clear that I wasn’t the only one who had been blown away by Tropa Magica’s performance; their music, stage presence, and energy coalesced into a truly remarkable set.

I think part of the reason why Tropa Magica seemed like the highlight of the night to me is that expectations for opening bands are typically quite low. Usually, opening bands fail to resonate that deeply with audiences, since most are likely to be there solely for the headliner. Fortunately, this was not the case with Tropa Magica. After hearing just a few songs, I was immediately making mental notes to see them again.

It was close to eleven o’clock when Shannon and the Clams finally took the stage, looking every bit what you’d expect from a band that blends ‘50s doo-wop and ‘60s garage rock – slim-cut pantsuits, pinafore dresses, and a sparkly bass guitar all included. If I had any concerns about whether they’d struggle to follow up an act as captivating and, to put it simply, as fun as Tropa Magica, they were quickly alleviated.

Opening with “The Boy,” the first track from the band’s sixth studio album, Onion, released earlier this February, Shannon and the Clams kept us grooving along to their songs about love and heartbreak for the duration of their set. Bass player Shannon Shaw and guitarist Cody Blanchard alternated vocal duties throughout the night, although perhaps some didn’t even notice – to quote a woman in the crowd at Shannon and the Clams’ 1:15 AM Desert Daze set three days after this show, “They have, like, the exact same voice! I’m really drunk, but they have the EXACT same voice!”. Credit is due solely to Shaw, though, for giving the best (and only, but still) rendition of White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane that I’ve ever heard.

The band featured a majority of their discography, including favorites such as “Ozma” from 2013’s Dreams in the Rat House. After finishing their set around midnight, I immediately made a mental note to see them again – after all, their set was filled with irresistibly danceable songs. And I’m very glad I made that note, since I otherwise would never have been able to be a part of that riveting discussion about the vocal similarities between the band’s vocalists.

Review By: Andrea Renney

The Frights at the Observatory North Park

The Frights Sell Out The North Park Observatory to Sweaty Teens, Bringing True All Their Frightening Dreams.

San Diego’s own The Frights played a sold-out show at The Observatory North Park on August 24th, which served as the kickoff date for their fall tour featuring HUNNY and Hot Flash Heat Wave. This hometown show served as a record release party for The Frights’ third full-length album, Hypochondriac, and, unbeknownst to all, as a birthday party for lead vocalist Mikey Carnevale. And what a party it was.

Hypochondriac is The Frights’ first record released on Epitaph Records since signing with the established punk rock label earlier this year. For the most part, the tracks feel softer and more personal than those on The Frights (2013) or You Are Going To Hate This (2016). “Goodbyes” and “Alone” are acoustic and full of raw emotion. Conversely, “Crutch” stands out as pure pop-punk, even bordering on emo territory. Gone is the “dirty doo-wop” sound The Frights were first known for, now replaced with slower, sadder songs about heartbreak.

I started my evening at M-Theory Records for a surprise acoustic set prior to the Observatory show. The Frights played through a lot of their new songs from Hypochondriac (a sound well-suited for an acoustic record store show), as well as some older favorites, such as “Of Age” from You Are Going To Hate This. The show felt intimate and wholesome, standing in stark contrast to what I’d experience later on.

At 8:00 P.M., I embarked to the Observatory for the real show. Supporting The Frights were Orange County’s The Grinns and Los Angeles’s The Marias. Typically, opening bands play for an unenthusiastic or nonexistent audience. Thankfully, tonight was not one of those times.  Towards the end of The Marias’ set, the band announced that they’d never had crowd-surfers at one of their shows and invited us to change that. The crowd obliged, establishing the rowdy energy that would continue for the rest of the night.

Around 9:30 PM, The Frights took the stage. Numerous floor lamps and suitcases had been arranged between the instruments and equipment, creating a visual reminiscent of the album cover for Hypochondriac. The floor was tightly packed as the sold-out crowd moved in for the main attraction.

It had been a while since I’d been to a show like this – Southern California, all ages, that perfect blend of surf/garage/punk rock that you can’t help but move around to. In my usual concert-going locale (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, eh?), all-ages shows are rare. Furthermore, the stereotype of Canadian politeness usually extends to concert-going and mosh pit etiquette. “Excuse me, sorry, may I bump into you a bit here, bud?” “Sorry, of course, give’r.” Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but the crowds I’m typically in are either of the mid-twenties hipster or late-thirties dad-punk variety, and it’s never anything I can’t handle. Based on these experiences and the level of “punk” that I ascribe to The Frights (maybe a 4/10 – sorry, guys), I thought that at most I’d be doing some low-key jumping around and singing, with a mosh-pit or two thrown in for some of their faster songs.

I was immediately proven wrong, as three seconds into The Frights’ first song, “Kids” (from You Are Going To Hate This), and I was inadvertently screaming for the first time in years and grasping valiantly (and unsuccessfully) for whatever nearby seventeen year old’s limb I can find to avoid drowning. There was a fleeting moment where I felt myself being swallowed up by the crowd and I wondered “Is this it? Is this how it ends? Trampled to death by teenagers at the Observatory, a mere nine days after arriving in San Diego for my second study abroad semester?” A sense of calmness washed over me as I accepted my fate. Thankfully, I quickly remembered that I’m a grown adult as I found my footing, and forced myself to push around with the best of ’em.

For the rest of the night, the crowd didn’t relent in their rowdiness, which the band reciprocated by putting on a wild show. The setlist felt like an even distribution of songs from their discography, including older favorites like “Makeout Point” (from 2013’s Fur Sure EP) as well as the surf punk tunes from their self-titled debut record that The Frights are most known for. The songs just seemed to keep coming, extending the set for almost a full hour. By the end of the show, crowd and band had bonded in hoarse voices and sweat-soaked t-shirts.

After the requisite chanting of “one more song,” The Frights returned for their encore and played through the entirety of their debut EP, 2013’s Dead Beach. Additionally, two wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tubemen (staples at any Frights show) were revealed and erected, mirroring the crowd’s enthusiasm as the final crowd-surfers of the night sailed overhead. Sweaty and bruised, we all used the last of our energy for one last hurrah in the mosh pit. As the show ended, I had no other wish in the world than to do it all over again.

Written by: Andrea Renney