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Monday, January 10, 2011

Friday Night: Phenomenauts Lead a Locally Grown Geek-Punk Freakshow at Rickshaw Stop

Posted By on Mon, Jan 10, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Phenomenauts at Rickshaw on Friday. Pics by Chris Trenchard.
  • Phenomenauts at Rickshaw on Friday. Pics by Chris Trenchard.
Tornado Rider
Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggets
January 7, 2010

Better than: Middle Earth's music scene.

The upshot of the live music malaise in early January is without a doubt the spotlight inherited by the Bay Area music machine and the local bands that help keep this scene a scene. Cultural locavores of the apparently-not-dead-yet punk spirit flocked to Rickshaw Stop on Friday night to soak in four bands hailing from parts near and nearer. No road fatigue here.

The night's upperclassmen -- Oakland's The Phenomenauts -- anchored a varied bill of idiosyncracy and audience participation rally-criers. By name, they were Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits, Manzanita, and Tornado Rider. In the flesh, their sum was a heap of testosterone.

Tornado Rider
  • Tornado Rider
But despite the egalitarian feel of the night, Tornado Rider, in the penultimate slot, stole the show with a brand of music (and theater, really) we should probably call WTF-core (or whatever words describe this). More a cartoon character than a person, lead singer/cello shreddist Rushad Eggleston came onstage as if he had just won some sort of world championship, bouncing from stage left to stage right in striped pink and black spandex, no shirt and a locks of hair hidden underneath an elf hat. Eggleston subjugated a rapt and rapturous pit of an audience with a sound at turns proggy, new-grass, surf-rock, avant-polka, cello-metal, and much more. He spoke in muscular tongues, like a lutrador wrestler that just took his 100th hit of acid. Very San Francisco, these punk-herders.

Tornado Rider
  • Tornado Rider
Tornado Rider knew how to get a crowd involved and conscious-altered. Its cultish anthem, "I'm a Falcon," came with a visual call and response -- make your hands look like a falcon! -- and a rambling urging to escape this dark world and get out your wings, "because everyone wants to fly." In this and most other songs, bassist Graham Terry, playing the bizarro foil in his Davey Crockett coonskin cap, peddled thrusting lines. Drummer Scott Manke beat things furiously. These dudes soar. High. In Middle Earth. 

The Phenomenauts
  • The Phenomenauts
The Phenomenauts continued the otherwordly theatrical of the night. Dressed for space flight, the five-piece came out channeling the visual aesthetic of Kraftwerk and the musical stylings of The Clash and, perhaps more closely, The Futureheads. 

It's all pretty straight-forward pop punk. The Futureheads comparison holds water because of the team-oriented vocal earnestness. Ooohs! and Ohs! and Whoas! weaved their way unendingly into the background, between three chords and chants of nerd revolution. Tongue is very much in cheek, but also in check. The Phenomenauts' slogan "Science and Honor," which graces a Cold War-meets-Springfield Isotopes backdrop, is either an inside joke or a simplistic ideology. 

The Phenomenauts
  • The Phenomenauts
Or maybe it's their way of being digestible. That's certainly the mantra for the Phenomenauts' sound, which rarely bends into realms risky and/or beyond the cloak of populist chant rock (well, one song had a rockabilly bent to it). In other words, it's not the statement that matters for The Phenomenauts, it's the exclamation point at the end. 

  • Manzanita
Manzanita, which came on before Tornado Riders, roots itself in the more traditional arc of pop-punk. Think the pick-your-poison themes of Alkaline Trio, the alternative-to-nothingness of Queens of the Stone Age, the riffing of The Hives, and a lead singer that looks like a stunt double for Jeff Goldblum (this one, specifically). Leather and tattoos and three chords are all a part of the Manaznita DNA, but so are a tambourine and a saxophone, wielded alternately by our Goldblum imposter. The best part of the set came when someone yelled "get off the stage already," and the singer responded: "I don't come to where you work and slap the dick out of your mouth." Mega touche.

And the first band of the night -- Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits -- played off a dynamic championed by duos such as Tenacious D and Flight of the Conchords. The lead singer described himself as the bastard child of Dom DeLuise, Groucho Marx, and Che Guevara, but might have looked more like Super Mario in his hipster phase.

Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits
  • Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits
Songs concerning emo kids, the suburbs, girlfriends putting out, Jesus (being their friend and their asswipe at once) had early birds smirking and singing along by set's end. These guys have been at it since 1995, and are one of myriad local bands deserving wider attention and other stages.

Props of the night: Go to the father of Tornado Rider's Rushad Eggleston, who was invited onstage by his son and proceeded to do a handstand. Heroic.

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