Altar de Fey w/ New Skeletal Faces at Corazón del Barrio, San Diego, CA, 06/10/2013

Of all the awesome clubs in the San Diego dark music scene, one thing that sets Club Nothing apart is the inclusion of live music into their events. So I was looking forward to this double bill at Corazón del Barrio. The venue itself is set within a bustling stretch of Logan Avenue in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood and works as a combination of music venue and meeting hall. I even remember attending an art show there a few years ago. The layout, size, and location are ideal for a music venue for fans south of downtown who may not always want to go clear across town to check out some live music. The smoking patio does get crowded and old-timers like myself would have appreciated a few more spots to sit down, but the crowd had a great vibe and the atmosphere was perfect for a Deathrock show. Such was the setting to welcome San Francisco’s Altar de Fey with San Diego’s own New Skeletal Faces.

The DJs were on fire this night, doing some of the best beat matching I’ve heard in Goth/Industrial since, well, EVER! Mixes including Siouxsie & The Banshees and Nitzer Ebb stood out particularly in my mind. And while the playlist included plenty of classic favorites, the song selection ran deep enough to have me playing the guessing game of “which band is this deep cut from?”.

There was one scary moment as the security guard made a stage announcement warning club goers to stay inside the venue due to a disturbance outside. (We later found broken glass along the street.) But, thankfully, there were no incidents inside the club aside from a few drunks who got a little too rambunctious in the mosh pit.

New Skeletal Faces started the live portion of the evening off right. Their elaborate, shrine-like stage decor – complete with runes and candles – created just the right setting. I’ve seen NSF live a few times and they can always be counted on for a solid live set. And they were in excellent form. Fans of NSF know that the band rarely takes breaks between songs, making the show one continuous flow of songs with wailing vocals that seem to be haunting the songs more than driving them.

Singer/guitarist Errol Fritz worked the crowd with his innate rockstar bravado while KRO and Don (bass and drums respectively) went through their set with lockstep tightness. Fans up near the stage where I was were losing their minds. Fists were pumped. Heads were banged. It was at this point that I looked behind me to see that a sizable mosh pit had broken out. Truly a rock ‘n’ roll spectacle for the books.

It seems that the NSF following made up a substantial portion of the crowd. I would have liked to see more of them stick around after the set. But a respectable number of partiers stuck around to see Altar de Fey, so it was all good.

AdF took the stage amid what seemed like a ritual, complete with incense and blessings to the crowd, and fully looking the part: teased Mohawks, tight black jeans, and ghostly makeup. Singer Jake Hout’s black feather arrangement was an especially nice touch. The rhythm section was filled out by Kent Cates on guitar, Aleph Kali on drums, and bassist Skot Brown.

It took a few songs for the sound to get fully dialed in, but the performance didn’t suffer for it as they went into selections from their back catalog. It is worth mentioning that, while the band first formed in 1983, most of their releases date from the 2000s and 2010s.

The crowd seemed devoted to welcoming these veteran Deathrockers to not-so sunny San Diego. (It was raining outside.) And everyone young and old we’re getting into the old school vibe.

These are the kinds of nights that, as a music fan and musician, I live for. It is my sincere hope that we San Diegans will see more from Club Nothing and the top notch entertainment they’re bringing to town.

Larva at Til Two, San Diego, CA, 06/08/2023

In truth, I knew nothing about Larva before attending this show. But I had faith in the good folks running Club Rapture that they wouldn’t steer me wrong. Turns out that this Barcelona, Spain export has been doing its thing since 1998 starting with the duo of InqUest and Blackend as Morbid Mind. Officially rechristened Larva in 2003, InqUest continues to pursue dark themes with more of a focus on social issues.

Go-Go dancer Katana alongside DJ SinDrome

I was impressed with the turnout for a Thursday night. Those more informed than myself, aka the local Larva fans, turned out to show their support. It was extremely helpful that DJs Barbie Serk and SinDrome did an excellent job of warming up the crowd with some the best mixes I’ve heard at Til Two for some time.

DJ Barbie Serk

By showtime, the dance floor was dense with dancers eager to get down. I can see why, Larva’s sound is nothing if not danceable, with a keen sense of melody and floating synth leads that made me think of early Gary Numan or later Ultravox.

As a live act, Larva’s energy is contagious. This one-man show was truly engaging; often jumping offstage to dance with fans, exchange hugs, and I think I saw him give several people playful noogies. When onstage, he would gyrate, flex, and contort himself wildly while going wherever the vibe of the moment took him. New converts like myself were easily won over.

After the encore, there was an additional surprise in store as everyone joined in to wish Larva a happy birthday. And while there was a wee bit of a language barrier to contend with, he clearly got the gist and expressed his appreciation to everyone present.

Whether you understand Spanish or not, you would do well to check out Larva’s respectable catalog or take advantage of a tour date in your town. I’m glad I did.

The Damned w/ The Dictators at The Observatory, San Diego, California, 05/23/2023

All Photos: Patrick Dickson

“Finally!” I said to myself. Ever since The Damned announced their “farewell” tour in 1989, I’ve been on a mission to see them live. The Damned, with their undeniable influence on Punk, Goth, and Deathrock, has been a must-see for me since the day I saw them perform Nasty on The Young Ones back in the 80s. And for all the tours that have come and gone since then, I wasn’t interested in missing them for an eighth time. So, after many missed opportunities, I, at last, got the chance to see London’s pride and joy punkers in my hometown at the good ol’ Observatory.

Starting off the night were some stateside-based rockers back in action after a long hiatus: The Dictators (not to be confused with The Dictators NYC). This NYC proto-punk band has seen its changes since it first started in 1973, and the lineup for this night included: Andy Shernoff (bass), Ross “The Boss” Friedman (lead guitar), Keith Roth (guitar and vocals), and Blue Öyster Cult alumnus Albert Bouchard (drums).

The band’s witty stage banter was obscured by some sound problems that were sorted out by the end of the first song. I love bands that don’t feel above a little self effacing humor. It’s even better when they know how to save a joke after it bombs. Match that with Bouchard’s habit of losing drumsticks throughout the set made for entertainment both seen and heard.

The noticeably older crowd got into it whether they were familiar with The Dictators’ oeuvre or not and everyone seemed to be digging it.

After a cover of the Velvet Underground’s What Goes On, the band wrapped up their set with the announcement that new material has been recorded and a new Dictators album can be expected by the end of the year.

Now… what I’ve waited over 30 years for. The Damned took the stage and proceeded to live up to their reputation as a solid and fun live act.

For starters, they looked like they haven’t lost a single step since their inception in 1976. They came onstage with a mutual playfulness that showed that they are still buddies as well as bandmates. Lead singer Dave Vanian looks like he hasn’t aged a bit with more energy than even I can muster these days; stalking the stage with animation, poise, and swagger. And his voice was spot-on and polished. Captain Sensible was wearing his signature red beret when he wasn’t wearing his guitar on his head. His wit was conveyed even when I couldn’t understand his accent. Monty Oxymoron looked like a cross between a hippie and a mad scientist as he held down the keys. Laidback bassist Paul Gray and left-handed drummer Will Taylor rounded out the night’s lineup.

Selections from Darkadelic, their newest release, were featured through the first half of the show and things got progressively heavier as the night went on from the polished refinement of later albums to the snarky angst of their early punk days.

Now I see what I’ve been missing. The Damned is nonstop fun to see live. When they’re not razzing each other (while wearing red rubber noses), they bring go-go dancers from the crowd onstage. When go-go dancers aren’t twerking alongside the band, Captain Sensible is revving up the crowd; cracking jokes in his cockney accent. When the Captain isn’t revving up the crowd, Oxymoron is dancing manically and maniacally across the stage.

The songs ran from classics like Neat Neat Neat which segued to tributes to The Doors and The Stooges. Favorites like Eloise and Smash It Up were featured, of course. They even threw in an improvised jam to open the second encore.

As the band wrapped up at last, Captain Sensible offered a parting thought with the declaration of, “We’ve still got it!”. Truer words were never spoken.

Chant & KMFDM – Live at The Observatory, San Diego, CA, 05/16/2023

“There’s going to be moshing tonight.” Such was the warning I received from a fellow concertgoer as I stood before the stage while people filed into The Observatory for my second KMFDM show ever. With a bad back and blown knees, I aged out of mosh pits several presidential administrations ago. So this little reminder was appreciated.

The Observatory is one of my preferred places to see a show in San Diego; there isn’t a bad view in the place whether on the floor or the balcony. And there’s plenty of distraction to found all along University Avenue even before you go inside, including the sushi spot across the street where I ran into Chant’s Bradley Bills. He warned me that his voice may not be everything he hoped for on this night but I remained optimistic.

By showtime, the venue was nearly full. Chant came on and started strong with the firm intention of getting the crowd’s blood flowing. To say this Austin, Texas act quickly made a strong impression would be an understatement.

I’ve seen other acts that have featured the drums as the lead instrument before, and it would have fallen flat in the hands of lesser musicians. Instead, the duo of Bills and Alvin Melivin wowed the audience in a way that could best be described as high-concept; especially when Melivin began to throw down on the cello. Between the theatricality (including a mock gunshot onstage) and the musicianship, Chant created a full experience that fully immersed the viewer. And Bradley Bills’ voice held up just fine.

As a drummer myself, I appreciated the performance for its intricacy and intensity. I have always felt that live drums should play a bigger role in industrial music. Fans of the first two Killing Joke albums know what I’m talking about; tribal drumming is both powerful and hypnotic.

New fans hooted and hollered over their discovery. One young man commented that he’s ready to forgo his guitar lessons in favor of buying a drumkit.

The set wrapped with Bills offering his sincere thanks to the audience and pointing out that this would be the 99th time that Chant and KMFDM have shared a stage.

After intermission, KMFDM came out to do their thing. There was only one guitarist this time, which differed from the dual guitar assault I witnessed the last time I saw them live. Nonetheless, the band came on loaded for bear. They wasted no time taking the already amped-up crowd to the next level. Showmanship was a constant throughout the night.

Only stopping once to say hello to the crowd, the show ran with little to no space between songs. Which makes sense; they played a LOT of songs this night. The anticipated set ran over the band’s decades-long history with later and newer songs mixed with favorite crowd pleasers. The forewarned mosh pit didn’t break out until they went into Drug Against War. Strong stage presence and a dazzling (almost blinding) light show kept a lot of folks transfixed with the stage. It’s not every band out there that are keeping it this real after four decades. And while I was hoping to hear Lucia Cifarelli bust out with Professional Killer, alas, no such luck this time.

By this point, I was dancing like a fool. But then, so was everyone around me. A sense of cameraderie permeated the crowd with everyone on their best behavior and projecting good vibes.

The encore included the gems Godlike and Paradise and the show closed with a looped outro and clever lighting.

This particular tour is a very short one, only five cities. Those of us in the Southwest were fortunate to catch a visit from a still rock solid staple industrial band and an exceptional act whose star is still on the rise.

Club Grave Beat at Til-Two, San Diego, CA, 5/12/2023

San Diego has a very respectable track record for the clubs in its dark music scene. With nights like Sabbat, Ascension, and Rapture leaving black-clad local fans spoiled for choice of nights to dance and socialize to their cold dead heart’s content, it’s nice to see there’s still room for up-and-coming club nights to carve their own unique niche.

So I was delighted to hear that Errol Fritz (of New Skeletal Faces) and DJ Grimm Beatz threw their hats into the ring with Grave Beat, an all-Deathrock night at the Til Two club.

I’m no stranger to Goth, Industrial and Post-Punk, so it was a rewarding breath of fresh air to have a night that’s dedicated to a sound that, in my opinion, still goes underrepresented in this town. I mean, how many clubs can you hear The Misfits and Fad Gadget in the same DJ set?

There’s several clubs in San Diego alone that offer that intersection between Goth, Punk, and even Metal. And even if Grave Beat shares that intersection, it’s on a different corner. The vibe was definitely unique on this night. Styles overlapped and melded in a way that seemed to have something for everyone.

The crowd was made up of faces I hadn’t seen a million times before and everyone seemed to be on the same page; dancing to tunes that have dancefloor appeal but without the usual untz-untz-untz vibe. The “snug” confines of Til Two make for a cozy (and often sweaty) sense of fellowship. Everyone seemed to be having a ball dancing to the likes of Bowie, Love & Rockets, and Ministry as well as TSOL, and – of course – Christian Death; along with lesser-known bands that make Deathrock such a fun genre.

The all-vinyl set made for some awkward segues at times, going from a frantic moshing pace to grooving slickness with eclectic abandon. But the crowd rolled with the changeups in stride as many just seemed to enjoy the musical catharsis.

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By evening’s end, I knew I wanted more. After asking around, I found out that this was Grave Beat’s inaugural and possibly sole night. With no promise of a follow-up, I managed to catch Errol Fritz and ask if Grave Beat will become a regular part of Til Two’s monthly rotation of hip events.

“Do you want it to?” He answered teasingly. I answered with a resounding yes.

Grave Beat was the kind of intimate but lively club that I enjoy, with a music selection that went deeper into the vault of bands beyond the same old same old.

With Southern California being the birthplace of Deathrock, Grave Beat would be a very welcome addition.