The first thing you notice about The Cheap Leis is the guy with the ukulele: larger-than-life SoCal music icon O. Well, “large” more in the figurative sense since he's recently lost some weight. O., or “Otisserie B.” as he's going by these days (Wikipedia says his real name is Otis Barthoulameu)—picked up the instrument when he joined the Leis a decade ago. Indeed, the former roadie for the Misfits who went on to front San Diego punk-rock bands Olivelawn, fluf and, currently, Reeve Oliver, plays the ukulele.
In a Hawaiian-music group.
And the guy with the mad lap-steel skills who does most of the singing for the Leis? Adrian Demain, former pro-skater and member of Bones Brigade, the skateboarding team founded by Stacy Peralta in 1979 that included Tony Hawk.
Who knew punks and skater kids would grow up to play Hawaiian tunes?
Earlier this month, the Leis played Bar Pink Elephant's weekly Tiki Tuesday, a fruity-drinks-and-paper-umbrellas theme night for which there's hardly a better band (apologies to all other Tiki Tuesday performers). The Leis' stage banter is witty, their matching Hawaiian shirts charming and their take on vintage islander tunes so authentic you can almost hear the vinyl crackle and pop. And then there's that one cover song. Wait—was that The Damned? “‘Love Song,'” Demain confirmed.
“The '80s covers have just sort of been our inside joke,” he said, “just watching people as we start to play a song, with that confused look on their faces, and then they realize what it is and they just start laughing. So we'll continue to just throw in weird covers like that.”
Though the Leis have been around for a decade, live shows are few and far between. Guitarist Jonny Maccree and stand-up bassist Jim Austin both play in the rockabilly group Smith's Ranch Boys and are scheduled to leave on tour in August. Austin also plays drums for Bartenders Bible, O.'s got Reeve Oliver and Demain is working on a solo project and plays with bluesman Billy Watson.
“We've been around long enough that there are people who know about us, but still, at the same time, we don't play often enough for it to be a normal San Diego band,” Demain said. While he was talking to CityBeat, he got an e-mail confirming Tiki Tuesday slots for July and August.
“John [Reis] is trying to get us on the bill with [his band], The Night Marchers at the Belly Up—it's a possibility, but no confirmation,” Demain said. “We just kind of force this band into whatever setting, which is really great, because it doesn't fit in anyway—so why not just make it fit?” —Kelly Davis Catch The Cheap Leis while you can. They play at Hensley's Flying Elephant in Carlsbad on Monday, June 30, at 8 p.m. and at Bar Pink Elephant in North Park on July 15 and Aug. 12. myspace.com/thecheapleis.
The Enrique Experience
If I ever make it to heaven, I hope it looks something like the Chee-Chee Club (929 Broadway). The Downtown haunt—a cross between a halfway house and Cheers—has seen many reinventions. In the 1930s, it was a bustling burlesque hot spot; in the '60s, the ceiling was lifted to accommodate go-go dancing cages; and a decade later, it became one of the city's first gay bars.
For some years now, it's been a salacious little dive that refuses to be part of East Village's gentrification. Here, if you have a full set of teeth, you'll feel terribly out of place as it's a favorite amongst the down-and-out population—perhaps because there's a bus stop smack in front of the Chee-Chee's weathered façade or perhaps because drinks are dirt cheap (a big-ass pitcher of beer is $8).
Bartender Terry, a fixture for 22 years, serves up the hooch from a cooler, 'cause the fridge is on the fritz. The jukebox has a healthy mix of tunes ranging from hardcore punk to honky-tonk; however, it seems only disco music ever gets played—Chaka Kahn, Abba, The Trammps and such.
With its baby-blue wood paneling and worn lacquer molding, it's a far cry from Studio 54, but the crowd seems to love it. Jackie, a transsexual sipping on a glass of white zin, described it best: “Honey, this place is real, OK? It's like Jerry Springer's waiting room. All we're missing is a midget. I could tell you some of the things I've seen in here, but I can smell the milk on your breath, child.”
One of the patrons came in all excited—canned ravioli had been marked down to 79 cents at the neighboring Super Jr. Market. Everyone at the bar took a dollar out, as if witnessing a strip show, and off he went. I announced it was my friend Jennifer's birthday. Much to her surprise, a lady bought her a round, some guy gave her a packet of wrapping paper and some other dude gave her a bootleg copy of The Chronicles of Narmia 2. Yes, Narmia with an “m.”
In the bathroom I felt a strong gaze. It was a cockroach the size of a toddler. I'm not sure if roaches have teeth, but if they do, that one would be toothless for sure. I arrived home, scrubbed myself thoroughly, contemplated burning my clothes and had myself some kick-ass ravioli. Heavenly, indeed.
Equipped with a killer new EP, bravo!, and a string of shows planned for the next several months, hard-rock trio OAKS are a relatively new name in San Diego, but local response has been positive so far. Blending elements of classic rock, metal, grunge and punk, OAKS successfully straddle genres, pounding crowds into pulp along the way.
Their roots extend all the way up the coast to Olympia, Wash., where drummer Justin Olsen began bashing the skins with Tight Bros from Way Back When. Olsen also does sound engineering for the Ken Club, which came in handy while recording the band's demos. When respected L.A. producer Toshi Kasai heard the band at a show with Big Business, he offered to record bravo!, and the sessions were held at legendary Hollywood studio Westbeach Recorders.
“We saved up the money ourselves and paid for the whole album without label support,” Olsen says. “The original recordings sounded pretty good, but Toshi definitely stepped it up a level.”
He mentions Archons, Get Your Death On and Ride the Sun as other local bands to watch, as well as Sirhan Sirhan, who will join OAKS for a couple of shows in July. In addition to their appearance at Chasers this Friday, June 27, OAKS have a weekend jaunt to Northern California planned in July, as well as an appearance at the inaugural CityBeat-sponsored North by North Park festival on Saturday, Aug. 2.
San Diego isn't exactly a mecca for heavy music, but Olsen is enthusiastic about the local scene. “It's starting to blossom. There's 10 or so kick-ass hard-rock bands that are going on right now,” he says. Undoubtedly, OAKS is one of them. —Todd Kroviak
A plumber, a poet
Steve Garber is a verbal minimalist. At his Speaking in Time performance last week at Tenth Avenue Theatre Downtown, Garber—shrouded in darkness by the black-box setup he had going on—approached the mic, wire-rimmed glasses spinning in his hand, and spoke intensely about ancient Samurai battles, morning flowers, sharks in his bed, inner-voice ramblings and other poetic musings while David Curtis played electronic samplings and beautiful dissonance on his keyboard and Danny Campbell, barefoot, lightly kept the beat on the drums.
Then, just before the crowd started shifting restlessly in their seats—because poetry, even in its finest form, can be a hard sell when it goes on too long—the plumber-by-day, poet-by-twilight and aikido-practitioner-by-night gently bowed out to let the musicians jam and guest performer Gregory Page step in and offer up a light musical break. Then Garber would sneak back to the mic and remind us that “all is fleeting” and “no amount of recording, be it writing, tape, record or CD, will gain us immortality.”
It was fitting that Page played a new song about how Jesus and God laugh at us lowly humans because of our uncanny ability to ruin nearly everything. It's one of the funny and folksy songs on his new album, All Make Believe, the release of which he'll celebrate at Lestat's June 28.—Kinsee MorlanTo hear pieces from Steve Garber's performance and check for upcoming shows, visit www.aforkintime.com.
In the dog-eat-dog (or lion-eat-man) world of local indie music, it's only appropriate that the week kicks off on Wednesday, June 25 with A Scribe Amidst the Lions celebrating the release of Sunken Cities at The Casbah.
Elsewhere, The Roman Spring and Grins Edge tackle Beauty Bar, Nerve Meter joins one-man San Francisco freak show The Slow Poisoner at Zombie Lounge and The Album Leaf teams up with Jamuel Saxon at Che Café.
The Album Leaf follows up on June 26 with Calico Horse at the Belly Up for one of the better local bills of the week while Kill Me Tomorrow, Crocodiles and Christmas Island crash Tower Bar.
On Friday, June 27, Kenny Eng and Melissa Vaughn celebrate his (Self Centered) and hers (Melissa Vaughn) debut albums with some indie acoustics at Lestat's, while OAKS clear-cuts the local metal scene with The Dead Sea Effect and Someday Assassin at Chasers.
June 29 brings the latest Local 94/9 showcase at The Casbah (featuring The Napoleon Complex, A Beautiful Noise and Manganista). The following day, June 30, Swim Party, The Henry Clay People and Writer swoop into The Casbah.
In other news, Astra (formerly Silver Sunshine) recently signed to London-based label Rise Above Records to record their full-length debut, slated for release in January 2009. And FM 94/9 is set to debut a new host for its late-night mellow music session Big Sonic Chill after hiring Amanda Thorne from KLLC in San Francisco.
And in the latest installment of “What's Switchfoot Up to Today?” frontman Jon Foreman released the last two installments (Spring and Summer) of his four-seasons solo EP project on June 24. This after “The Cure for Pain” (from Fall) was featured in the season finale of Grey's Anatomy and the Switchfoot track “This is Home” popped up in the end credits of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. —Nathan Dinsdale