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Rock & Roll High School
Class is in session at the Schooled In Song/University By the Sea festival
Last year’s Schooled in Song festival at the Carpenter Center taught locals just how healthy homegrown music can be: “500 people walked away saying, ‘What amazing musicians in our midst!’” remembers organizer Justin Hectus, who had the Dibs, Deccatree, Chris Paul Overall and more raising money for Long Beach arts programs. But now class is really in session. A partnership with the University by the Sea arts-and-culture fest—named after an old-timers club at which boring lecturers were voted offstage—pairs more than 30 bands with off-the-wall classes in which Long Beach personalities (such as Mayor Bob Foster) wax academic on everything from Roman history to swashbuckling (“museum-quality” weapons provided). Other areas of study: “Laughter Yoga,” “How to Be a Drag Queen,” “The Rise and Fall of Fender’s International Ballroom,” plus composting workshops, crepe-making, and a whole bunch about alcohol and/or the consumption of. (For the full schedule, go to www.universitybythesea.com.)
All of it happens Sunday at the closed-to-traffic intersection of Linden and First. (Full disclosure: A paper I’m involved with, L.A. Record, will have a booth at the fest.) Here are five bands playing the fest and their favorite classes:
Dengue Fever picked up their singer—Cambodian sensation Chhom Nimol—at downtown Long Beach’s old Dragon House and set out to conquer the world. Two albums that revived a wild style of rock & roll stamped out by the Khmer Rouge built a fanbase spanning both hemispheres and inspired a documentary titled Sleepwalking Through the Mekong. Peter Gabriel released their latest, Venus On Earth, and there were even persistent rumors they’d get a Grammy nomination last year. They didn’t, but if they ever win one, says bassist Senon Williams, he’ll give it right to Chhom.
MOST LIKELY TO SIGN UP FOR: “Swashbuckling,” says Williams. “I have an affinity for nautical novels.”
Fingerprints record wranglers Niki Randa and Elvin Estela (a.k.a. DJ Nobody) started Blank Blue as an after-work project and ended up with the majestically psychedelic Western Water Music Vol. II, a concept album about the big quake that finally sinks California into the sea. Apocalypse rarely sounds this sweet: Estela provides paisley-age hip-hop beats, and Randa’s stately vocals recall maximal mind melters such as Os Mutantes’ Rita Lee. A just-out EP on Costa Mesa’s Ubiquity finds the band in a softer mode and suggests a promising direction for Water Music Vol. III.
MOST LIKELY TO SIGN UP FOR: “Anything that has to do with food,” says Randa. “And crafting is fun—maybe even more fun after a mixology class.”
Crystal Antlers were already having a very nice year, but after an extremely complimentary Pitchfork review (a better decimal rating than Beck or Madonna!), this Long Beach band went into interstellar overdrive. A self-released EP that sounded like Funkadelic, the Music Machine and Blue Cheer got them noticed at benchmark independent Touch and Go, which signed them after a minor bidding war this summer. Now back from the F Yeah Tour—which made men out of boys and meat out of men—the band are working on their first album. “It’s what I do all day,” sighs bassist/singer Jonny Bell.
MOST LIKELY TO SIGN UP FOR: “Is the RDA teaching a class?” asks Bell.
Long Beach pop scholars Greater California have been putting together their new record the same way Michelangelo painted chapel ceilings: very . . . carefully, shall we say? “The mythical All the Colors album is finished,” says singer/guitarist Terry Prine, which is just what anyone who has seen the band live—with Wilson-ian songs that would have stood out in the summer of ’67—has been waiting to hear for years. But it won’t be released quite yet. Instead, Greater California have to finish writing a new soundtrack for excavated footage the Endless Summer shooters intended for a film about the 50th anniversary of Seal Beach’s famed Harbour Surfboards. Consolation for die-hards comes with this weekend’s live set and the introduction of new member Justin Roeland, whom Prine calls “possibly upstate New York’s finest multi-instrumentalist.”
MOST LIKELY TO SIGN UP FOR: “‘The Rise and Fall of Fender’s Ballroom.’ What fond memories I have of that time period,” says Prine. “That was a completely different lifetime.”
OC veteran Jay Buchanan has dropped the “Buchanan” band tag—he’s just a man, no longer a band, and he’s feeling freer than ever. “I didn’t wanna do the same thing,” he says. “I’ve put out enough albums and done enough touring.” But a year of working construction by day and writing at night gave him two solo albums’ worth of new songs he describes as “if Otis Redding had fucked Van Morrison, and Joni Mitchell was the third wheel just touching herself.” (Same ol’ gift for imagery!) Of course, just when you think you’re out, they pull you in. A chance phone call from a friend now has Jay fronting a new band. He couldn’t help himself: “The energy was off the charts!” But he did change their name—from Black Summer Crush to Pleasant Return. Something subliminal there? “Yeah, right!” he laughs.