The Casbah Monthly: PigPen Theatre Co. & The Tragic Thrills

Last Thursday I attended my 3rd concert in a matter of 4 days. I had been having a lot of fun, but fun can take a toll on a girl. Still, I wearily trudged to The Casbah. I was there to see PigPen Theatre Co., an indie-folk band from New York.

The Tragic Thrills Credit: Kristian Ibarra

Credit: Kristian Ibarra

My curiosity was sparked when I saw a bunch of cute, young guys on stage. They looked similar to a one direction type of boy band but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the The Tragic Thrills were far from that. They informed the crowd that this was their last show opening for PigPen Theatre Co. I was in for a treat. Their band included a keyboard, bass, drum, and electric and acoustic guitar.

I assume they’re a local band or from somewhere near San Diego because I was standing near one of their grandmas for half the night. She seemed pretty cool. They also had a bunch of friends from high school supporting them at the show and a few groupies dancing throughout their whole set. It was nice to see a young up and coming band have such a large circle of support. So what about their music? Their music was sounded as good as they looked. They have an indie-pop feel and all their songs were very catchy.

They opened with Everyday, at first listen the song sounds very cheerful but the lyrics are melancholic. I trade pain with numbness, you betray my weakness. Because I’d rather swim through tears than walk through the desert any day. In a way this song represents the group themselves. They appear to be a peppy boy band but pay closer attention and you realize their music portrays genuine, thoughtful feelings and reflections. Fever was a slower song that again, had amazing lyrics. Sweet, sweet girl dreamed someday she’d be a writer, swore she’d never give up on her soul desire. Fever was more acoustic than the previous songs and the lead guitarist was the sole singer, this created a somber atmosphere. So although their looks were deceiving, The Tragic Thrills were wise beyond their years.

PigPen Theatre Co. member Ryan Credit: Kristian Ibarra

PigPen Theatre Co. member Ryan
Credit: Kristian Ibarra

When PigPen Theatre Co. took over the stage I was surprised to see a 7 piece band, equipped with 2 banjos an accordion and later on in the show, a violin. These guys definitely know their instruments.  PigPen has an indie folk/country feel to them, hence the banjos, accordion and violin. Apparently they’re all actors and met in a theater company, hence their name. Where the PigPen came from, I don’t know, they ignored that part when explaining their origins. They told the crowd that it was their first time in San Diego and in return they were met with a warm San Diego welcome, which included cheers, whistling and raising of glasses.

They opened with Crow, which sounds like it could be in a western movie. Specifically, the scene where the outlaws have to ride at sundown as to not get caught by the sheriff. The banjos are showcased in this song, both of them working in harmony as the band supports their twangy sound. They followed that with a song in Russian, I don’t speak Russian so I had no idea what the chorus was about but I enjoyed the song nonetheless. During this song the lead singer switched his acoustic guitar for a banjo, the KCR photographer that came along with me made a comment about it being “musical instruments” instead of musical chairs. That description fits PigPen perfectly. Everyone in the group seemed comfortable picking up a different instrument at any point in time. There was something very fluid and pleasing about watching the instruments being exchanged between all the members. I’m accustomed to watching a band who has one person for each instrument, so watching PigPen perform was refreshing. The Dress Song undeniably brings the accordion to the forefront.

PigPen Theatre Co. member Dan
Credit: Kristian Ibarra

The accordionist became the lead singer for this song as well (again with the switching). One of the crowd’s favorite songs was The Way I’m Running. Another instrument was brought into this song- the hands, as in clapping. It could not have gotten any more folk than this. It was very high energy. Along with the clapping there was a lot of stomping. If I knew how to dosi-do, this is the song I would have done it to. Because this was not a sold-out show, people at the room to dance along.

Their cover of The Band’s The Weight was my personal favorite. Everyone in the band had a chance singing a part of the song. I don’t know much about folk songs or country music but this reminded me of Jazz. In many Jazz songs each member gets a few bars (usually 4) to improvise, although PigPen didn’t exactly improvise, they each sang and played a specific part of the song. The bassist which remained quiet for most of the show was the one that blew the song out of the water. The crowd went wild for him, myself included. We were not expecting to hear such a boastful voice come from the quiet guy in the back.

I loved the comradely displayed on stage, they were laughing and genuinely having a good time together. Their stage presence was that of a folk band around the campfire. They were easygoing, constantly joking and talking to the crowd as if we were old friends. The cherry on top of this night was their encore. Me being a hip-hop head I was equally excited and surprised to hear their cover of Hey Ya by Outkast. The crowd seemed to enjoy it just as much as I did. This was a good way to end the show, simply because it was a familiar song that everyone could sing to. PigPen set the atmosphere for the show and we were immersed in it. PigPen Theatre Co. does not solely consist of musicians and actors. They are story tellers. Each song played told a story and the crowd was entranced, waiting and listening to hear how the story would unfold.

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PigPen Theatre Co. member Ben
Credit: Kristian Ibarra

The Casbah Monthly: Dirty Science

So you know when you go to a concert and it seems as though the opening act will never end? Your feet and back start hurting before your favorite headliner even comes on.  You try to distract yourself with a few more drinks, a few Instagram checks and restroom breaks. You fear you won’t be able to make it until the end of the show. Last Tuesday, March 4, was nothing like that.

Dirty Science is a record label which supports and fosters great underground hip-hop talent including, Blu, Exile, Johaz, Coss and Fashawn, and they are what’s happening in underground hip-hop right now. I was especially excited for this concert because I was not only going to see one of my favorite producers (Exile) but I was also going to interview him. Unfortunately that interview did not pan out as expected. Because of the change in plans I had a bitter taste in my mouth, but it was nothing a few beers and good music couldn’t fix.

The Casbah was packed. From all the times that I have been there, it was easily the most crowded show. This is just a testament to how popular and talented these artists are. Opening, were a few talented DJ’s. DJ Artistic, ABJO and Mr. Brady. After some of the local DJ’s, the young up and coming artists from Dirty Science got the chance to showcase their abilities. Denmark Vessey did a few songs from his EP Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid. Vessey was good but definitely has a long way to go in terms of perfecting his craft and stage presence. He does have potential though, I will give him that.

I don’t expect to be able to decipher what a rapper is saying, especially if I don’t already know the lyrics. Choosey made sure the crowd heard and understood him.

Vessey reminds me of a mix between Mos Def, ODB and Tyler the Creator, all very different rappers, so you’ll have to check him out for yourself to see what I mean. It was apparent that Choosey aka King Choosey aka Makeshift (producer name) had a few more shows under his belt than Vessey. Choosey spit clearly, which can’t be said for many hip-hop artists. I don’t expect to be able to decipher what a rapper is saying, especially if I don’t already know the lyrics. Choosey made sure the crowd heard and understood him.

He got the crowd ready for Dag Savage and Blu & Exile. It might have been because at this point everyone was already a few drinks in but I’m giving Choosey the credit. An easy way to determine if an artist had a good performance is simply if you take the time to look them up after the show, which is exactly what I did with Choosey- and I encourage you to do as well.

Dag Savage didn’t get on stage until 12. It was late but as I said before, we weren’t complaining. Dag Savage, in case you didn’t know consists of rapper Johaz and producer Exile. They recently came out with their debut album E&J. Johaz is a San Diego native so he was familiar with the crowd. Johaz opened with The Beginning, which was very fitting. This song sets the tone for the rest of the E&J album just as it did for the show. Slower, melodic, old school beats coming from the speakers were unmistakably produced by Exile. I was happy to hear one of my favorite songs on the album, When It Rains. Although Aloe Blacc wasn’t there in person, Dag Savage killed it nonetheless.

Everyone was jumping, bobbing their heads, throwing their hands up and sweating. There was a lot of sweating going on.

Johaz himself has incredible stage presence. He was jumping and running all over the stage, the crowd returned the favor. Everyone was jumping, bobbing their heads, throwing their hands up and sweating. There was a lot of sweating going on… His more personal song, For Old Time’s Sake wins the award for best performance. Johaz is the type of artist that wears his heart on his sleeve, putting it all out their for the crowd to take in, which is exactly what they did.  Vessey and Blu came out for Drugs, which only made Dag Savage’s performance better.

To see all of these guys on one stage, feeding off of each other and having fun was unbelievable. Seeing and hearing E&J being performed live was priceless. Although we’re only in March, E&J is my favorite album of the year thus far. Dag Savage is good hip-hop. One rapper, one producer giving it their all on every song.

Blu & Exile

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it was Blu & Exile time. I assumed the crowd came out for Dag Savage, Johaz being the San Diego native and all but they were apparently there for the dynamic duo of Blu & Exile. As soon as they were announced, the crowd went wild. They did a few songs off of their last album Give Me Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them but for the most part they stuck to the classics featured on their debut album Below the Heavens. I, along with the crowd were excited to hear the songs that we’ve been singing along to since 2007. They did all the great songs off of Below the Heavens starting with My World Is…

Throughout the rest of the performance they moved to, Soul Amazin’, No Greater Love, Dancing in the Rain, Blu Colla Workers and others. Although all the songs performed were familiar, Exile put a new and unique put a spin on them, as only Exile could do. Below The Heavens is one of the best underground albums out there and it was even better live. Exile himself put on a hell of a show.

I have never, and don’t think will ever, see another producer use an mpc the way he does. He went from using it as one would a piano, moving his fingers from one pad to another, to literally karate chopping it. Exile’s solo, led to the crowd rushing the stage. I ended my night dancing on stage with my friends and the Dirty Science crew. This show was definitely one for the books.

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The Casbah Monthly: Linnea Olsson and Ane Brun

Last Friday February 21, I attended an amazing show at The Casbah. If you don’t already know what The Casbah is, shame on you! The Casbah is a venue that has been an iconic and integral part of San Diego’s music scene since 1989. They have showcased a number of bands such as: Nirvana, MGMT, The White Stripes, Arcade Fire, Social Distortion, Talib Kweli and The Black Keys. Hopefully those ring a bell, if not, again, shame on you. But if the talented artists and bands aren’t enough to hold your attention they also have pool tables, arcade games and most importantly, a full bar. It is a 21+ venue, so if you are not of legal drinking age my blogs might be your way of vicariously watching these shows. If you are able to attend, I’ll see you there!

Linnea Olsson Taken by: Valeria Sofia Miranda

Linnea Olsson
Credit: Valeria Sofia Miranda

On this particular night Linnea Olsson and Ane Brun were the stars of the show. I had the pleasure of not only listening to Linnea but also interviewing her. The Swedish cellist was a delight. She was humble and sweet and those characteristics were exhibited throughout her performance. She opened her set with the song Ah! (Also the name of her debut album). Her gentle voice and soothing cello quickly filled the room. Ah! set the stage for the rest of her performance. Her second song was quite different. Giddy up featured Linnea’s perfect use of overdub, which allowed for this song to sound as though there was a full orchestra on stage. It was simply layer upon layer of various cello melodies. There were a few other songs in between that I can only describe as melancholy and classical. She ended her performance on an uplifting note with her song Dinosaur. Before playing it, Linnea described it as “a love story that has ended and it’s so good that it has.” Dinosaur was definitely the most poppy song out of them all. It fit perfectly into her genre that she described as “Cello Pop.” I am by no means an expert on the cello but I like to think I know a thing or two about music and based on my knowledge and the crowd’s response, I would say her performance was spectacular.

By the time Linnea finished her set the crowd was already a few beers in, sweaty and wanting more. I watched as people looked at their cell phones and watches, waiting in anticipation for Ane. Finally around 11:00, singer, songwriter and guitarist Ane Brun took the stage. Ane opened up with First Positions. This song got the crowd swinging. Ane herself was dancing and playing with a smile on her face. Her appearance added to her performance. She wore a long black and gold robe that swayed as she danced and long gold earrings to match. She was fabulous! To top off her appearance her voice was, to quote Beyoncé, flawless. Prior to this show I had never heard Ane Brun and I was in awe. She changed the pace with Lullaby for Grown Ups, which was slow and wistful. It’s the kind of song you need to close your eyes to while listening, simply to take it all in. Linnea not only opened for Ane but she also played with her throughout most of her set, this only made every song better. As they were playing I heard people whispering “marvelous” and “amazing”. My personal favorite of Ane’s had to be The Treehouse Song which was reminiscent of Patsy Cline. It had a soft country feel to it, simple message and simple chords which made it perfect. Ane made everything she did; singing, strumming her guitar, dancing and playing piano look effortless.

Watch the video for The Treehouse Song on Youtube.

All in all Linnea and Ane were fantastic. I (and I believe many others) left the show feeling simply fulfilled. I encourage everyone to listen to both of these wonderful ladies. Yet another great show hosted by The Casbah.

Make sure to keep an eye out for my backstage interview with Linnea.