Poor, Drunk, Talented

Photo by Michael LamA pall of heartbreak and depression had drifted into the Elephant Bar in Irvine the night the Mighty Ducks dropped Game 7. Everywhere, that is, except the comfy booth where the members of Bayadera had congregated. This band was beaming—hey, at least their dream was still alive.

After several delays, the band's CD, 90 Million Miles, was finally finished. And goddamn if the thing ain't a near-masterpiece of stylish electric and acoustic alterna-rock—a bit like Evanescence's Fallen, only with a more free-spirited, guitar-fueled edge. Lyrically, they lean toward the personal: you got your romantic disappointments (“Reservation,” “Crutch”), your straight-ahead love songs (“Hasty,” sung in both Spanish and Farsi) and songs that foster hopeful, resilient fortitudes (“Broken Rain”). On one number, Gina Bandy sings with a warm, reassuring tone: “Break me up, and I will mend again.”

Or mend the soul of anyone who cares enough to bend an eardrum. And people ought to, because Bayadera (“firedancer” in one Native American tongue) are easily one of OC's most exciting, diverse and experimental bands. They have a lineup that would make an equal-employment-opportunity officer drool; the quintet's ethnic backgrounds include Vietnamese, African American, Iranian and Puerto Rican/Slavic, with, naturally, a token white guy. Acoustic guitarist Dat Nguyen is blind, and drummer Adam Reesman is a sign language interpreter.

Of course, this wouldn't mean shit if they simply played like a multi-culti version of Aerosmith or something equally bland. But Bayadera manage to weave all their cultural backgrounds into a unique, collective soundscape. Nguyen plays a bao (Chinese violin) on “Oblivion,” a dark, haunting ballad, and electric guitarist Mehrdad Saatara plays both a fierce solo and a distorted sitar part on the scorching rocker “Doesn't Matter.”

Creating wholeness out of their differences and promoting tolerance are what Bayadera say they're all about. “Each one of us is passionate about having a positive experience within the framework of the band, one that can sustain our individuality while we work towards the common goal of making great music,” Bandy says, a UC Berkeley grad with the tough-yet-tender duality of a Chrissie Hynde or Johnette Napolitano. “We relish our differences. We're people open to new sounds and experiences.”

“And do you think any of them would have ever tasted Vietnamese moonshine if I wasn't in the group?” jokes Nguyen, who came to the U.S. from his homeland in 1991.

Bayadera were initially a trio, formed when bassist Chris Payne and guitarists Nguyen and Saatara were friends at Cal State Fullerton in 1999. They'd sit in the quad and annoy other students with their loud, Violent Femmes-like acoustic strumming. As the threesome began writing songs, they realized something essential was missing: a voice. It was Bandy who caught their attention after a long, fruitless search. She answered an ad in the Recycler by sending the guys her demo tape. Bandy's feeling-filled vocals, affability and charisma sealed the deal, and Bayadera officially became a quartet in 2001. Last September, Adam Reesman joined on drums, adding the perfect punch.

As Bayadera began writing original material, they were also eager to record. The plan was to recut a rough demo and add several newer tunes by the end of last year, but that didn't happen, and a planned January release date got pushed back to this month. After investing way too much time relying on other people to help get their music out, they eventually realized that the only way was to DIY it.

“There were days when we were ready to kick and scream at anything that moved,” says Payne, “but we're thrilled to be finished. Nothing could replace the knowledge and experience gained by doing it all ourselves.”

Now the band can focus on what they really love: playing live. Bayadera gigs are rarely ever the same. The band pride themselves on getting caught up in the moment, in reaching a zone where impromptu jams and explosive, ever-shifting dynamics are the norm. Plus, new tunes—some reggae-tinged—are being sprinkled into their sets, with a Doors or Police cover waiting in the wings to keep crowds who've never heard them interested. But even with their debut now in the can (and available on their website at www.bayadera.com), Bayadera aren't about to relax.

“We really just want to tour, write and tour some more—we're heading to the East Coast for some shows next month,” says Bandy. “Plus, we're so in debt, we can't break up any time soon!”

The Bayadera record-release party with Stickman Grind, Sunset Room and DJ Trip at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600. Sun., 8 p.m. $7-$10. 21+.

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