Electric Children, Spencer Robinson And The Wolf Spiders, Heathen Apostles At The Maui Sugar Mill Saloon, Saturday March 17th 2018
The Maui Sugar Mill Saloon is a small and unique venue nested in the San Fernando valley, but you should not be fooled by its unassuming location inside a strip mall, this place has to be the last best-kept secret of Tarzana. A lot of bands have performed there and Dave Grohl is a regular,… yes that Dave Grohl, whose portrait thrones at the entrance as if he were the king of the place. There is also another large scaled pic of Grohl and Taylor Hawkins when they joined Chevy Metal and The Birds of Satan which played there, and I also heard that Slash and John Doe have made some appearance on the very small stage, so the saloon is understandably getting a lot of attention, and it was enough to get me on the 101 Freeway on a Saturday night.
Electric Children play there once a month, and they opened the night with a punk-inspired set of diverse influences, from the Cramps to a more rocking and grungy sound and even psychedelic territories. Guitarist Eddie Lopez sang with monochord and semi-aggressive vocals while Bill Bateman (who used to drum for the Cramps and the Blasters) pulverized the scene with the help of Mondo Lopez on bass and Jordan Saldana on guitar. Altogether, they were building a thick wall of fuzz around repetitive lines with a badass attitude and an explosion of loud garage rock .
It was not my first time seeing Spencer Robinson and the Wolf Spiders, and each time, their western noir brings to mind desolated places and determined heroes confronting the devil at each detour of their psychedelic guitar solos. it’s not a coincidence if they have a song called ‘Standing At The End Of The World’ (also the title of their debut EP). Their cinematic music is dark and fierce, with catchy melodies that embark your imagination through a charging gallop in the desert before bringing you right back in a bar for another shot of whiskey… And since we were in a bar on Saint Patrick Day, it was not too difficult to imagine, except that nobody probably wanted to follow the advice of their last song ‘Drink Gasoline/Spit Fire’. There was plenty of action and energy during their sweaty set, filled with the theatrics of frontman Spencer Robinson who shook some maracas during a new song.
Heathen Apostles were the headliners of this intimate show and their gothic western was in continuity with Spencer Robinson’s vision, except that they were going for a much more acoustic sound with an old fashioned upright bass and a very piercing violin. If the band’s sound was dominated by Mather Louth’s deep, strong and melancholic vocals, I could not detach my eyes from her black mousseline dress with blood-red flowers. The whole band had certainly cultivated a very specific look, the type of gothic Americana which makes you ready for murder ballads through graveyards or furious dances inside debauched saloons (It was not the case for Maui Sugar Mill, be reassured).
Mather Louth was surely commanding the place with her powerhouse while Chopper Franklin (who has played in The Cramps, Nick Curran & the Lowlifes) looked like her silent companion on guitar or mandolin, riding together a series of ballads blending murderous country, raw folk, bluegrass and mountain music, with a violin making the connection between Irish folk (Saint Patrick’s day obliges) and Appalachian rootsy music. After a few devilish old Irish dances, they also played a song in homage to Merle Haggard ‘Misery and Gin’, whose title seemed to sum up about everything, before covering a slow-down version of the classic ‘Summertime’. Because of the skull closing the tie around Franklin’s neck, and the crucifixes piling around Louth’s neck, I expected the music to be a bit more edgy, but, from their fast Irish violin stomps to their slower melancholic ballads, they did conquer the crowd very fast, proving that timeless music is just this, timeless.