OK, I’m not really on the Road to Pink Moon with The Bath Salt Zombies, Glostick Willy and Opposite Box, but I did get to hit two of the first shows the boys did here in Florida. Monday they hit Jacksonville, then Brunswick GA on Tuesday, and Awendaw SC on Wednesday. Then all three bands perform at the Pink Moon Festival in Rock Camp WV.
The tour began Wednesday night in Tampa at perhaps my least favorite venue ever, The Brass Mug. The first time I went, I swore it would take 42 years to return. Except that these bands had scheduled this show. My resolve < my desire to see and support them.
The Brass Mug is an echo chamber with a metalhead at the soundboard. If you are trying to sing a song about “Afternoon Sex” or “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver,” but the crowd cannot understand a single word, well, you get the picture. To put it better focus, a sign in the women’s room says EMPLOYEES MUST CARVE SLAYER IN FOREARMS BEFORE RETURNING TO WORK.
Despite the hideous sound, it was truly a fun night. Unless, of course, you were Glostick Willy, whose auto troubles delayed their arrival until Thursday. This first night out, they had also corralled Row Jomah, another fine quintet from Clearwater obsessed with cats (well, one of them, anyway).
Row Jonah led off with a pair of new songs (“The Corner,” “Nou Grüv”) before jumping into a host of tunes from their fine debut album Cat People. Sara Phillips, a.k.a. Mama Bone (formerly with Green Sunshine), joined in on trombone (of course) for a couple, “Fire & Ice” and “Funk.” “Crawl” was another tremendous new rocker, and they closed with their ‘kitchen sink’ tune, “Outhouse” (they go all over the place — what a treat!). Everybody in the band sounded great; Jason Berlin’s bass got the biggest assist from Mr. Metalhead!
It was the perfect lead-in for Chattanooga’s Opposite Box, also somewhat obsessed with cats and certifiable to boot. Keyboard master Ryan Long drove straight into “Afternoon Sex,” all about your mother getting drunk, having sex, and having you (“Your mom’s a freak”). Except that the lyrics were totally lost. I was fortunate to know what was going down, others, not so much. But they could totally dig when Ryan picked up his trombone and started wailing. Dick Long (wearing a mask covering the top half of his face) abused his guitar’s wah-wah pedal with abandon.
For “Anteater Molly,” Ryan donned a full-head lion mask, grabbed his trombone, walked down to the dance floor, jumped up onto the bar and lit the whole damn place up! Somewhere along the line, they teased “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” before letting drummer Ryan Guza (with a nifty new gold mask) have a great workout with brand new percussionist Jeff McSpadden. Also new to the band was Ryan Crabtree on bass. He had an excellent night securing the bottom end of the sound.
And here’s the thing. Any band that has been successful playing ‘comedy music,’ from Spike Jones and Mickey Katz to Frank Zappa and Root Boy Slim, has to be a truly great musical outfit before being funny. If you stripped away the kinky lyrics and riotous stage antics, Opposite Box is a superb funk band. That’s how it works and why they, like the Bath Salt Zombies, have been successful regional acts.
The next tune started very jazzy but somehow tumbled into prog rock! After that, a very, very demented medley spilled out, starting with the beginning of “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond.” Just when we expected more, they shot directly into another tune, then a funk jam, then “Flashlight,” a guitar and electric piano blowup, and finally the “Star Wars Theme!” Ryan loves playing with his synthesizers and the talk box!
Another mad amalgam followed, starting with prog rock with guitar feedback, electric piano, a “Caravan”-like vamp (Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington, NOT Van Morrison), suddenly Weather Report-style fusion, and finally into “Birds on a Wire,” a song about, well, Sarah and a music festival and psychedelics and… totally lost in that hellhole of a room. So sad. They closed with a great swing tune.
That left it to the Bath Salt Zombies to close it down, which they did, in style. Fortunately, many were familiar with much of the setlist, so we knew mostly what they were singing, even though the actual words were bounding ‘round the room.
“Little Red Riding Hood” (thanks, Sam the Sham) was a great place to start, everybody howling along. “Dig a Little Hole” is always a blast, figuring out what to do with the body after your mama’s done something very naughty. Next came one of their famous mashups, starting with Kermit’s “Rainbow Connection” with Zane Bowman’s soft vocals before abruptly shifting into Ronnie James Dio’s metal anthem “Rainbow in the Dark.” They continued to shift from one to the other just as abruptly. Brilliant!
Mama Bone came up and stayed for the remainder of the set. She adds a great dimension to their “circus music gone bad” (thanks, Dan!). They also introduced Taylor Ranor, a young man who had met the band only recently and sat in briefly. This was his first official audition of sorts. If I get a vote, this young man is a keeper! Violin, mandolin and more! WOW!
“Scratching at My Door” and “Peru, Indiana” were great, Ranor playing violin. I may have failed to mention the blacklight show going on, as the BSZ have mastered the ability to paint themselves in blacklight paint so that, when the regular lights are off, the boys light up like skeletons. Brilliant! Thanks, Noodles, king of lights!
All of the boys sing at one point or another. After drummer Dan Crowley sang a powerful rocker, guitarist Graham Woodard crooned on “St. James Infirmary.” Bowman took over for “Bearded Lady” with Taylor switching to mandolin, and then things got, well, zany as they blistered an uptempo “Africa” (yep, Toto).
Bassist Tucker Cobb’s great baritone delivered the aforementioned “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver,” too muddled to enjoy in proper Primus tradition. They knocked out a great rollicking “When Doves Cry.” So you look at this band, see a hollow-body bass guitar (Tucker Cobb also plays solid-body), a guitar, a violin or mandolin, and a banjo, and you’re thinking, is this bluegrass? What the heck?
The Bath Salt Zombies ROCK. It took me at least a dozen shows before I truly appreciated that and especially to appreciate how fabulous Crowley is at the drum kit. He pushes this band at near warp speed; well, it seems like it some times, and none more evident than on the last tune of the evening (I got my wish!).
They started this mashup with “Boris the Spider,” Cobb’s deep, deep voice channelling The Who’s John Enthwhistle. After the spider’s demise is revealed, the quartet began a sort of cacophonous section where things seem to be falling apart. But then they started to coalesce, as Crowley drove the beat. Suddenly Woodard and Crowley began singing “I’m your boogie man, that’s what I am.” Nobody in the place was sitting now.
The vocal portions of the KC tune are great, but the instrumental breaks in between are dynamite, especially Bowman on lead… banjo? Hell, yeah!
“Incredible beat, awesome to dance to. I’ll give it a 99!” (Make that 100!)
So that was Wednesday night. Thursday, Glostick Willy made it as they tore up Gator’s in Sarasota with Opposite Box and BSZ, we understand. On to Friday and the double-dip at Ka’Tiki in Treasure Island.
The plan, executed perfectly, was that each band would play a one-hour set in the afternoon, starting at 1 PM, and then each would play another set beginning at 7 PM. I was unable to make the Bath Salt Zombies’ opening show, although photographs of the band cannot be unseen, if you know what I mean.
Opposite Box was throwing down an amazing afternoon set, eventually getting to “Afternoon Sex” again but with intelligible vocals this time (the bands handled the sound at Ka’Tiki themselves)! After that, a superb “Soul Sacrifice” rang out, with Dick Long ripping yet another great guitar solo. And of course Guza (white hockey mask this time) and McSpadden did the drum solo thing.
This was a masterful set, and then Ryan Long, said, “If you know the words, sing along.” Everybody was ready as the band launched into …Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein.” HAHAHAHAHA! And, as Ryan pointed out, the evening set would be “about 10,000 feet higher!”
Finally it was time for Glostik Willy. This is a true power trio, and they are stunning. Metal, prog rock, funk. Yep, they have it all. One of the best parts about this tour was uniting three truly innovative bands with unusual approaches (to say the least) with three entirely different styles.
Guitarist Jameson Bradford led them directly into “Bright Side,” ripping prog-metal. So how did that evolved into an instrumental version of “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” Beats the heck out of me. “Travelin’ Moo” was more of the same, and that morphed into several things, including “Axel F.” The third tune slowed things down — briefly — with a loving approach to “Can’t Find My Way Home.”
Bass player Zach “Buddha” Aguilar showed off some nifty slapping during “Disco Smitty.” They tore my head off next with a superb cover of “N.I.B.” from the first Sabbath LP (“My name is Lucifer; come take my hand.”). Ralf Mowf was killing his drum kit on “Don’t Tell the Monkey” and their closing song, “Alibi.” The nighttime set promised to be awesome!
Opposite Box kicked off the evening (well, the sun was still way up) with “If You Wanna.” Ryan Long again donned his lion mask and paraded around Ka’Tiki with trombone for “Anteater Molly,” and they reprised “Afternoon Sex,” because, really, who doesn’t want to hear about your mama having drunk sex to create you?
The following tune was an opportunity for the band to demonstrate their huge musical chops. Dick Long took the first slot on guitar, with Ryan next on electric piano, then synths. Gaza and McSpadden dueled again on percussion, and new bassist Crabtree was having a blast up there.
This time, we could understand the story of festival-attending, first-time psychedelics-taking Sarah in “Birds on a Fence,” as Ryan intoned, “Shake what your mama gave you!” And they closed with a great new instrumental, appropriately titled “New Jazz.”
Time for Glostik Willy, Round Two. They came out swinging with “Golom in the [something]” and never stopped swinging. At the Fennario Music Festival at the end of this month, one of the sets the band will perform is Sabbath Willy. After the afternoon’s “N.I.B.,” it was great hearing them dive back into the first album for the title track.
Song three was pure metal, “Willy Tour.” It just doesn’t get any better than this. Or, to cite my favorite phrase: “This was as good as it gets.” Prog metal washed over the packed crowd next with “Highs and Lows.” They followed with a new tune with the delightful title “Kick in the Dick.” Next, Bradford shared some classical-style electric guitar before heading the song into “Truck Fire.” His and Aguilar’s vocals are very effective for the band’s presentation. They closed with one of Glostik Willy’s signature tunes, “My Brudda.” Massive!
The Bath Salt Zombies again had the honors, closing down this insane Ka’Tiki day, opening with “Dig a Little Hole.” Next up was another delicious mashup. This one started with the Inkspots’ “I Don’t Want to Set the World On Fire (I Just Want to Start a Flame in Your Heart).” Just as we were lulled by the old classic, they burst into “Firestarter” by Prodigy, and they careened back and forth between the two.
“Too High for the Supermarket” is always a crowd favorite (can you relate?). Further into the set, Chris Pack of Twisty Chris and the Puddin’ Packs joined in on “Astro Zombies.” Then Sara Phillips/Mama Bone and Ranor with his violin made it a sextet. They played their beloved “Whoa Betsy,” and this time you could understand Cobb’s vocals on “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver.”
It became a septet when Miss Robyn Alleman (Holey Miss Moley), in appropriate blacklight face paint, came up to lament “St. James Infirmary” along with Woodard. It was dynamite. And once again I got my wish: “Boris Boogie” for the grand finale. EVERYBODY under the Ka’Tiki roof and outside was dancing.
As they got to the spot for the first solo in the “Boogie” part, Woodard turned Ranor loose on violin, and it was just plain magical! Bowman also took a wicked banjo solo, Mama Bone was sounding great, and Crowley was absolutely killing it on drums. What a magical night!
The Road to Pink Moon is paved with demented musical gold!
Great thanks to the Ka’Tiki folks for making Friday a blast!