I love the Tower Bar right now. The Sess had posted an 8 p.m. start time for their show tonight, and I made the rather reasonable decision to show up at 9:30 p.m. It's now 11:07 p.m., I'm shit-faced, most of The Sess aren't even here yet and I'm stuck listening to a dreadful singer named Derrick (just Derrick) wail “Your love is like a cobra snake / You bit me right in my heart.”
I started with beer and bourbon. Now I'm on my third glass of the recently re-legalized absinthe. Legend has it that the wormwood derivatives found in this toxic green liquid caused Van Gogh to cut his ear off. Or it could be that he was listening to the 19th century's version of Derrick. Or maybe it's because absinthe is potent enough to be used as a bio-diesel fuel. But what can be said of the Green Fairy can also be said about The Sess.
Both are strong, highly flammable and may or may not contain psychedelic properties (The Sess have a penchant for consuming lysergic). The first time I heard The Sess—both live and on their demo—I was immediately impressed with their blend of abrasive, bulbous punk and trippy garage rock. Not to mention their ability to get San Diego's indie-hipster scene to un-cross its arms and rock out for once.
But I haven't heard them in a while and, in my webby haze of firing synapses and skull-fuckery, I suddenly realize that even their stellar debut album (Agendumb) can't encapsulate what their sound is all about. One blogger described it as “part rock, part punk, part stoner experimentalism.” It's a sound that guitarist Jeremy Rojas has a hard time pigeonholing but says is influenced by, well, the basics.
“Just life, I suppose,” Rojas says over beers a few days later in the band's filthy practice space in Chula Vista. “New life, new goals, new music, new drugs.”
After playing in punk bands in Riverside, the original foursome—Rojas, drummer Andrew Montoya and brothers Sam (singer/guitarist) and Mark (bass) Rivera—solidified as The Sess over the last four years. After relocating to San Diego, they added keyboardist Aldo Bustof and soon began playing to raucous crowds at Che Café and Tower Bar.
What's most impressive about The Sess is their ability to scare you. Their live shows conjure that tingling sensation you felt in the space between your navel and crotch when you saw your first wild concert without adult supervision. The crowd moves in sways, acting wild and stepping on toes, whipped into a frenzy by the mystery of truly not knowing what the band will do next.
The Sess' particular brand of danger is special because you buy into it. Many bands come off as fake or overreaching when they flail about onstage, but such theatrics are just The Sess being The Sess.
“If you're like that, you're usually trying to make up for something,” Rojas says, “that they suck or the songwriting sucks. If we're not feeling it, you'll know.”
And they are a little crazy. After all, we're talking about a band whose guitarist, while on tour earlier this year, forgot how to play after a bad mushroom experience on an organic blackberry farm in Oregon. To paraphrase Gore Vidal (or maybe it was the Marquis de Sade), there's a thin line between insanity and absolute freedom.
The Sess are proof that music is, and should be, dangerous. Whenever a kid with a Marilyn Manson jones shoots up a school, a redneck talks about “nappy-headed ho's” or Tipper Gore's kids hear Prince sing about masturbating groupies, musicians come out of the woodwork to defend their art from the Al Sharptons and PMRCs of the world. But if you believe in music as an art form, and you believe in its ability to change lives, then you also believe in its power to make people do crazy shit they might not necessarily do.
“I think, for the most part, none of us are pretentious fucks, so you can tell we mean it,” says Montoya, who plays with cymbals that look like they've survived a nuclear war. “It's just easier when you don't have to try so hard.”
After the band takes the stage at the Tower, I dance away and drunkenly sing along. But I can't help but think of all the ways they'll eventually disappoint me. They'll probably get huge, move to L.A. (hell, I wouldn't blame them.
When one of your catchiest tunes is called “Fuck the Navy,” perhaps San Diego ain't the place for you) and break up after two albums.
Looking at them now, virginal and on the cusp of greatness, I can picture what their lives would be like after The Sess. Sam Rivera, with his brother's help, will make a bland solo album. Rojas will start a cult. Bustof will front a nü new wave band. Montoya will buy new cymbals. But I'll still love them because of this moment. Right now, they're a toe-curling, face-melting orgasm of a rock band that ranks with the best in San Diego.
And who's to say if any of those things will actually happen. The Sess isn't fucking Rush or Pearl Jam. They are the Sex Pistols and Nirvana. Too good to last. Ready to explode onto the national scene or on each other, which ever comes first. Either way, the sparks are there. And it only takes a few stray embers and a gust of wind to burn everything down.
The Sess play with Witch Hats and Braaiins on Friday, Aug. 29 at The Yard, 39 17th St., East Village.www.myspace.com/thesess.