Fast Train Comin'

Stairwell/Filmore/Solace/Quite Satellite
Chain Reaction
Friday, April 30

and . . .

Havolina Rail Co./Halo Friendlies/Soul Junk
Chain Reaction
Sunday, May 2

Although Friday was May Day Eve, it was a remarkably unrevolutionary night in Localsland. We couldn't seem to get aroused by any bill anywhere. And you know the pickings are anorexic when the most promising bill is at a shall-remain-nameless frat bar at which we were just not in the mood to waste several hours of our still-young lives. So we went instead to the reliable Chain Reaction, where we at least knew that superific Filmore were playing-we especially enjoyed their scrunchy new tune "Platonic Movie Date." Quite Satellite were just all right, neither mm-hmm! nor nuh-uh, though we liked the doctored Carl's Jr. sticker on their kick drum that read EAT WHEAT. The Killingtons-ish Solace were sludgy during their first half-that look-we're-sensitive poetry segment didn't help-but they cooked themselves up into something edible by the end. Stairwell's moody, violin-stroking rock was fine, too, but we were left, shall we say . . . unsatisfied. There just wasn't much to comment on, pro or con (except for maybe the substitute sound person, who quite convincingly acted like she knew what she was doing even though she didn't).

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We went back on Sunday for what seemed to be a promising release party for America, the new CD from Long Beach's Havalina Rail Co. Things started off badly, with Soul Junk spooning out a hippie-dippie, shriek-freak stew. Their front man, a shaggy singer who yelped like someone had smashed his bong, was downright scary, especially when he dismissed the band and started maniacally rapping alone and flailing away to a beat-box jam, an idea he may have picked up from seeing too many Beck shows. We thought his routine was cute for one song, but he did several like this, which grew really old really, really fast. But strangely, the more we dismissively glowered at him, the more fascinating he became in that guilty, let's-stare-at-the-car-wreck-on-the-freeway or let's-go-watch-Jerry-Springer way. If he pulled this routine at a party you were throwing, though, you'd call the cops. When the rest of the band joined him, we felt like we were at a Dead show-only without the spinners, trails, veggie burritos and feminine armpit hair. These parts were loaded with wanky, pseudo-psychedelic instrumental breaks (some of which were kinda snazzy, we'll admit) that made us want to go out and smoke a lot of pot. But Soul Junk are a Christian band, so maybe that was the point-they wanted us to feel closer to Jah.

The Halo Friendlies were much better than when we caught them last October. Back then, they were pulling their punches. But on this night, they seemed more confident and in-control, blaring out bouncy, early Go-Go's-like power pop, only a lot meatier, louder and angrier. Several of their songs did sound awfully similar, but they still blurted all of them out with heaps of soul and passion, setting them adrift on an ocean of riff. They were guh-roo-vay.

And then came the Havolina Rail Co., whose exotic enchantment and overall gloriousity we weren't prepared for. They're a fantastically fabulous seven-body alterna-band who use weird stuff like maracas, harmonicas, washboards and fiddles (and guitars, of course), twisting them into surreal shapes that are part country, part punk, part blues, part klezmer, part lounge, part rockabilly, part swing, part bluegrass, part honky-tonk, part Ukrainian folk, part Dylan, and part out-of-print B-movie soundtrack. Basically, the Havolina Rail Co. are a band so stupefyingly good you'd think they were from Austin. But they ain't! They're local!

This new America album of theirs seems to be some sort of concept album, too, with tunes that drop all sorts of place names, from Alaska and Hawaii to California and the Mississippi River to various cornfields, Cajuns and deserts in between (their last disc apparently had some sort of Russian theme, so we're not yet sure if they're a novelty act, or trying to be a semipolitical one, but we do know what we like). On Sunday, what stood out most was a grand little ballad called "American Skies," which sounds like an old Johnny Cash tune, and "California," a jaunty song about hurrying home. Other band comparisons? Think Camper Van Beethoven, or the Asylum Street Spankers, or even the Squirrel Nut Zippers. All we know is that the Havolina Rail Co. are some freakin' good shit.

Send tapes, CDs, show dates, whatever, to Locals Only,OC Weekly, P.O. Box 10788, Costa Mesa, CA 92627.

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