Tiger Army hadn't played a show in two years when Nick 13 and crew took the stage at the Observatory on Friday night, but you wouldn't have known it by watching them. Dressed in almost entirely black, the crowd roared with delight through most of the psychobilly trio's 90-minute set. The Octoberflame VII headliners haven't put out a new album in well over eight years, but it might as well have been the mid 2000s in Santa Ana this weekend.
Just seconds after walking onstage to the first of many rounds of cheers and applause, Nick 13, drummer Mike Fasano (who played with the band in 2004 before James Meza took over), and new bassist Djordje Stijepovic used "Ghost Tigers Rise" as an intro into their set so everyone could yell the band's iconic slogan ("Tiger Army never die") right off the bat.
While there were certainly some high school and college-aged fans, the bulk of the crowd was clearly the same people who'd been fans since at least a decade ago when Tiger Army crossed over into the mainstream with 2004's Tiger Army III: Ghost Tigers Rise. The two-night event had been sold out since June, so most of the folks in attendance were likely among the group's most faithful listeners.
Following the introductory number, arguably the most popular psychobilly band in the world kept things crowd-friendly with singalong numbers like "Wander Alone," "Afterworld," "Ghostfire" and "LunaTone" from their two most recent (and successful) albums.
Considering it was that lineup's first time ever playing a show together, the trio sounded nearly flawless. There were a few times over the course of the night that the rhythm section seemed to be at a slightly different pace than Nick 13, but Stijepovic clearly has no problem stepping in and slapping the upright bass and Fasano certainly held his own on drums.
The band continued their set with "Cupid's Victim" and "Rose of the Devil's Garden" before Nick 13 took a break to inform the crowd that there'd be a new Tiger Army album coming out soon. Although he didn't have an exact release date, the frontman confirmed that the new album is "fucking done" before debuting a track called "Prisoner of the Night."
It was during this break (and the several times he thanked everyone for sticking with Tiger Army for so long) that one of Nick 13's most endearing qualities came to light. Regardless of how you feel about his songwriting or guitar skills (which are quite underrated), Nick 13 has a certain earnest authenticity about him that you don't always feel from musicians (and other performers). He might not be singing about his exact experiences (vampires, ghost tigers, etc.), but there's no doubt that everything he says comes from the heart. It'd be easy for someone with that much of a devoted following ("it's not a musical preference, it's a lifestyle") to become jaded or content with their lot in life, but Nick 13 seems legitimately thrilled that people still care about Tiger Army after all these years, and it separates him from some of the more "rock star" types of his contemporaries.
After getting everyone excited for new music, Tiger Army returned to their first two albums with "Nocturnal" and "Pain" before going back to the 2004 classic for "Through the Darkness" and "Santa Carla Twilight."
As the set neared an hour in length, Nick 13 introduced "FTW" by explaining that he still feels like saying "fuck the world" at least once a month before concluding the initial act with "Forever Fades Away."
To kick off the encore, "honky tonk guitar" rockabilly icon James Intveld took over on guitar while Nick 13 crooned his way through "Hechizo De Amor" (just one of many reasons they hold a strong Latino fan base). Following performances of "Outlaw Heart," "Never Die" (of course), and "Sea of Fire," both non-original members were reintroduced by Nick 13 and given a chance to show off their solo skills before bowing out to one final round of applause.
They're the psychobilly band punks love and "true" psychos love to hate, but there's no doubt Tiger Army still puts on a spectacular show after all these years.
Ghost Tigers Rise
Rose of the Devil's Garden
Prisoner of the Night
Through the Darkness
Santa Carla Twilight
Forever Fades Away
Hechizo De Amor
Sea of Fire