Movin on Up

Photo by Jessica CalkinsBy the time I arrived at Subject Matter Gallery in Costa Mesa last Saturday, a well-on-its-way-to-sloshed crowd of trucker hats and hoodies had spilled into the stripmall parking lot, smoking and laughing and sketching. Yes, sketching—as in pencils and sketch pads. It was early, 9:30 or so, and I'd shown up for a show by Groove Ensemble, but all I could hear were thick thumping bass beats emanating from inside the gallery and the faint strains of a cover band playing a private party a few doors down at the Bamboo Terrace. Where Groove Ensemble was, I hadn't a clue—but such is the case when you blindly accept invitations from strangers, as I had when Clubbed! reader Ken emailed me about his band's show.

Having spent the better portion of the day repeatedly lugging piles of clothing, books and childhood artifacts up three flights of stairs to my new—and very first ever—apartment (pleased to meet you, adulthood!), I'd shown up parched, in pain and slightly perplexed as to what, exactly, I'd agreed to attend. But minutes later, after passing on the $10 donation-to-drink cover at the door—Newcastle does not so much hydrate, you know—and glancing up at The Mac's impressive, green spray-painted portrait of a young woman, I concluded that Ken had in fact done me a fabulous favor by inviting me to the opening kegger for Characteristics, Subject Matter's latest exhibit. Genius!

Falling in line with the hordes of plastic cup-sipping, decidedly un-pretentious folks huddled in front of the two dozen works displayed on the walls, I spied a decked-out Costa Mesan vamp and paused to admire her triumph in successfully wearing six-inch platform sandals while simultaneously dancing to Arrested Development's "People Everyday" and cutting the head on what was assuredly her sixth beer of the evening; her sixth beer of the evening—before 10 o'clock. Still, given that there's only so many minutes that you can stare at drunken strangers—or ruminate on the subtext of a painting of a monkey-man with a head shaped like the pyramid on the back of the one dollar bill—without looking like a stalker—or a dim-witted idiot—I grew uneasy in my idleness, worried that I'd missed Groove Ensemble's set entirely.

But then! I spotted it, evidence that Ken just might make good on his promise of a "funkin' good time": leaning against the wall, bookended by a guitar case and some bongos, was a didgeridoo! And then I spotted its owner, a pierced, skater-looking lad accompanied by a dreadlocked bongo player. As the two began setting up the mic for the didgeridoo, an afro-sporting cutie that I'd eyed for most of the evening busied himself by plugging in a bouquet of wah-wah pedals for his guitar while the rest of the 9-piece band—a drummer, keyboardist, lead guitarist, bassist, trumpeter and MC—lit candles, drank beer and soundchecked their instruments.

Still cooing over the didgeridoo, I found a place by the wall and chatted with the super-extroverted, hot-pink-haired Alicia—she'd grown up with the boys in the band, they'd taught her how to skateboard, and she really liked my wrist cuff, or so she repeated eleventy times, but in the friendliest, drunkest of ways—and waited for the funk. Yet the funk, when it finally arrived, came in the disguise of a bespectacled computer repairman; or maybe a navy blue Dickies-wearing postman; an off-duty Best Buy manager in a gray fuzzy Nautica pullover, perhaps. Whatever his day job, Cry Freedome's—Groove Ensemble's rapping collaborators—leadman shocked and awed with his smooth rhymes and Autobahn-paced delivery. When combined with the band's backing beats, the result was a jam band potpourri of hip-hop rhymes and psych-rock riffs set in the Australian Outback, and no one—especially Alicia, now dancing with the vamp, who was chugging her tenth beer like a one-woman frat party—could resist its allure.

An hour later, as Groove Ensemble finished their set and the afro'd cutie issued a directive for everyone to dance—perhaps he'd noticed me sitting against the wall; my back hurt, yo!—I sneaked out of the gallery, feeling sorry for everyone who's ever yawned through a wine-and-cheese opening. And, slightly less so, for the hangovers of everyone who'd whooped their Newcastled way through this one.

Subject Matter ( hosts another opening next month on Jan. 10. In the meantime, check out their current exhibit, Characteristics, and don't miss Groove Ensemble's next show on Friday at Hogue Barmichael's.

Wind instruments blow! But in a good way! Invite me out!


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