Sept. 30, 2011
House of Blues, Anahaim
Anaheim's House of Blues hosted the wildest show on the planet on Friday night, an evening of vintage rock & roll and soul hosted by Wild Records label head Reb Kennedy. Some of Wild's top talent--Gizzelle, The Desperados, and Luis & the Wildfires--performed, with Wild in-house DJ Chuy playing old classics (and a few new ones, such as Nick Waterhouse's PRES 45) between sets.
I've seen the Wildfires and the Desperados several times in the past year, but I'd never seen Gizzelle; she rarely plays local shows, spending most of her time touring Europe, where Wild has found a great deal of success. (Something like 99 percent of the label's sales are in Europe, and Kennedy flies his artists from festival to festival to play in front of crowds of thousands.) But I've been obsessed with her voice from the first moment I heard her Devil or Angel album that came out a couple of years back. Gizzelle sings late-'50s blues and early-'60s soul in the vein of Etta James and Big Maybelle, but with Wild rock & roll sensibilities, and she has more than earned her Wild-given title of Soul's Golden Voice.
I was hoping she'd play her covers of Barbara Lynn's soul classic "I'm a Good Woman" and Big Mama Thornton's lesser-known but also fantastic "The Place" from her most recent Wild 45--probably my favorite single released last year--but we got a slew of other stellar covers instead, including a killer take on Winona Carr's "I'm Mad At You" and a kicking version of "Hound Dog." She brought in a couple of special guests: bassist and Wild staple Alex Vargas sang lead vocals on an early number, and her adorable daughter came out to dance to "Bella Mae." Can't wait for her new CD, which comes out in two weeks.
Santa Ana's Desperados--the youngest band on the Wild roster--followed with some late-'50s-style rockabilly. I'd seen them last year at LA RECORD's Wild all-dayer at the Echoplex, but I was particularly impressed by their performance at the House of Blues; they've clearly learned a thing or two about stage presence from some of the older bands on the label. Lead singer Slim Cervantes' carefully combed hair was shaken out of place the second he started singing, his confidence growing fast as the bros in the front row yelled, "You took my heart!" and, "Let's get wild, motherfuckers!" as they danced furiously behind the barricade. And Cervantes did get wild: The Desperados' set ended with him smashing his guitar onstage and sending the broken pieces sailing over the crowd.
By the time label lynchpins Luis & the Wildfires hit the stage around midnight, the dance floor had thinned out a bit, but singer Luis Arriaga forced everyone in the audience to dance as he screamed and howled and swung his guitar around his back. Switching between songs from their thunderous debut, Brain Jail (released first on Wild, then on Norton), and their most recent album, Heart Shaped Noose, the Wildfires played a half-hour set packed full of rippers.
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I love watching Arriaga because when he sings about love, you can tell he feels all those high highs and low lows every time he plays those songs. Arriaga has been recording with Wild for about 10 years now, starting with Lil Luis y los Wild Teens, a band Kennedy discovered at a dive bar in Downey. Now, with the Wildfires, he plays savage rock & roll with some of Wild's best musicians and headlines festivals all over the world. An unstoppable force of nature, he's what drives the label forward.
Critics' Bias: Huge fan of the Wildfires, and I've interviewed them a couple of times.
The Crowd: Lots of gorgeous vintage dresses and perfectly styled hairdos. Several creepsters groping their girlfriends right in front of HOB security. (Stay classy, dudes.)
Overheard In the Crowd: "Let's get wild, motherfuckers!"
Random Notebook Dump: Gizzelle is an incredibly beautiful woman, with one of the most arresting voices I've heard all year.