Sounding the 805

Gypsy Death Star unveiled, Groovehound reunion, and Fresco goes full cover

By Chris Mastrovito 09/02/2010

After the disbandment earlier this year of one of VC Reporter’s 2009 bands to watch, Cheetahsaurus, frontman Wyatt Hull is back on the scene with his newest collaboration, Gypsy Death Star, which debuted last week at San Souci.

Electronic music composer Cesar Augusto, the essential musical force behind Hull’s signature emotive, howling vocals, dials in much of the down-tempo electronic pulse that drove Cheetahsaurus, without the live instrumentation, focusing the sound into a concentrated beam of trance-inducing energy from the dark side of ambient techno and postpunk/new wave. As the name implies, this power duo probably could actually destroy planets. Catch Gypsy Death Star again at San Souci on Sept. 15.

The joke goes, how many Deadheads does it take to change a lightbulb? They don’t change it, they just follow it around for 30 years until it burns out. For many, however, the spirit of the Grateful Dead is a light that never goes out. Just ask local bass player Evan Grosswirth (The Preachers Blues Band), who, after six years, has by popular demand, begun reassembling the elements of Groovehound, Ventura County’s premier jam band dedicated to the music of the Dead. The capable collection of local talent from Ventura’s jam/blues community includes the guitar skills of local music teacher and member of The Ventura Jazz Orchestra Hans Ottsen and Josh Davis of The Hours Before who is also lead guitar player for award-winning country singer Kacey Cubero.

A Groovehound show is a rare occurrence reserved only for special occasions, in this case, the reunion at J’S Tapas Saturday, Sept. 18  foreshadowing the visit by former Dead members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir at the Santa Barbara Bowl two days later. As for what to expect, the setlist includes more than 22 songs covering the catalog from the mid to late ’60s to the late ’70s, including B-sides and more obscure songs. Reluctant to label it a tribute act, don’t expect over-the-top Jerry Garcia wigs, costumes or scripted banter. Groovehound is billed as a “celebration” of the Dead, with arrangements and chord progressions used as a template and in the true spirit of the band, everything else improvised.

For an already locally established band that has gained the vast-devoted fanbase necessary to headline the lion’s share of local music events such as Spencer Makenzie’s End of Summer Blast and Bombay’s annual Beach Party, one might expect Rey Fresco to use its sophomore record to fine-tune the definitive document of its original sound, establishing the progression of the band members’ capacities as songwriters, as follow-up releases by upcoming bands often do. But according to producer Joe Baugh, the band is in the studio polishing, surprisingly, a five-song EP of covers. It’s a bold statement for a band in this stage of its career, as such a move usually marks one of two scenarios: a debut demo designed to demonstrate a new band’s technical skill and bookability before it has had the opportunity to establish its artistic chops, or for a veteran band so late in its successful career that its vast catalog of timeless original music justifies the authority of its own interpretations of others’ work. Since Rey Fresco fits neither, this covers EP, which reportedly includes such stock songs as Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” and Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” is a risky venture and had better feature some game-changing revisions of these songs, (I’m talkin’ Devo’s version of “Satisfaction” different) done as never before. While we can’t be sure until the release, we may be looking at either a stroke of genius, or a band potentially risking cementing its seat on the fast-track to perpetual “house band” status. Here’s hoping it’s the former.   

Sounding the 805 is Ventura County’s only biweekly local music column. If you have a tip, a suggestion, a complaint, some dish or just a kind word, shoot Chris Mastrovito an e-mail.


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