The 'cat's meow
One listen to Tomcat Courtney and it's clear this guy ain't faking it. His powerful, honeyed voice aches with every rotten thing ever done to him, while his jagged guitar weeps with the knowing grit of experience. But the fact that the bluesman calls San Diego home isn't half as surprising as the fact that, at age 78, Courtney will release his first album, Downsville Blues, on May 20.
Growing up in Texas in the 1940s, Courtney watched heroes like Lightnin' Hopkins and T-Bone Walker spin tales of lost love, broken homes and bad luck. They inspired him to pick up the guitar, but it wasn't until he started tap dancing in a tent show that he knew he could sing.
“It was a Memphis-style show, and there was a girl who couldn't remember the words to ‘St. Louis Blues,' so I starts singing it behind her so she would remember,” Courtney tells CityBeat in his Southern-fried brogue. “They liked it enough to have me do it in the show…. I never knew I could sing before that.”
After getting married and having kids, Courtney left his performing days in the rearview mirror. He toiled to support his family with odd jobs—dish washer, fry cook, etc.—for nearly a decade before he began playing again in juke joints and road houses throughout the South. When his band broke up during a tour stop in L.A., Courtney liked the weather so much he stayed.
“I liked San Diego, but L.A. had more joints to play,” he says. “Then I got some regular gigs in San Diego, so I moved down there.”
Courtney established himself as a fixture at the Texas Teahouse in Ocean Beach and now plays regularly at the Turquoise Café (Wednesdays and Fridays) in La Jolla and Chateau Orleans (Thursdays and Saturdays) in Pacific Beach.
And while the raw appeal and unvarnished soul captured on Downsville Blues makes you wish he hadn't waited so long to release an album, it's a debut worth waiting for.
“I had so many jobs all around that I never worried about making no record,” Courtney says. “But this is a real blues record because I lived it.”—Paul Saitowitz
If they listened closely, anyone standing in the food area of the Gator by the Bay Festival this past weekend could hear the tiny, tinny crack of a boiled crawfish's shell splitting, followed by a slurp and then the click of an empty shell landing in a pile of husks.
What wasn't heard (at least less frequently) in this crack-crack-slurp-click symphony was actual conversation. Eating crawfish requires serious concentration and these eaters were a dedicated lot as they leaned over their yellow trays, laboring onward, crawfish after crawfish after crawfish.
If the tasty red crustaceans were the heart of the food area, the food area was the heart of the festival. People who preferred not to dismember their meals before eating them could get po' boys, Boudin sausages, hush puppies, funnel cake or plain old burgers. And the food area was never less than full. Those who ventured away from the food were greeted by the hat sellers, chandlers, signature-gathering activists and artists displaying their wares. Then there were the five stages of slide guitar, Zydeco, swing, blues and accordion music that was inexplicably complemented by bass-heavy hip-hop used as filler between the live acts (wrong crowd, fellas).
The biggest downer, however, was on the beverage front. There were two—two—beverage stands for the whole festival. And while the food area was certainly crowded, the drink line was never shorter than a street block. As delicious as the crawfish were, they would've been better washed down with a Redhook IPA. Alas, there's always next year. —Eric Wolff
The Enrique Experience
Leave it to a CityBeat party to bring out the crazies.
The paper's first “Beer Club” night on May 7 drew a cool and artsy mix of people wanting to get their microbrew on at South Park's Hamilton's Tavern to benefit North Park Main Street and the San Diego Music Foundation.
Upon entering the green wood and red tile façade, I made straight for the bar to snag a Coronado Brewing Golden Ale (one of the night's two highlighted choices) and struck up conversation with a bewildered girl at the bar.
“I just went to CVS pharmacy, bought a generic pregnancy test and the damn thing didn't work,” she muttered, drinking her sorrows away. “I should have just forked over the extra four bucks and gotten an EPT.”
I headed toward a group of friendly faces standing by one of the pool tables when Scott Richison, producer of the ill-fated Fox Rox television show, stopped me and asked if I'd ever heard of “Green Porno.” My mind drew a blank. Sure, I was familiar with CFNM, Bukkake and, yes, even Cue-Ball. But the concept of Green Porn eluded me.
“It's also called Eco-Porn,” Richison explained. “It's when the people involved pretend to be insects and act out their mating rituals.”
And why did he know this?
“Hey, a banner [ad] saying ‘PORN' popped up on my screen and I clicked it…. Who wouldn't,” L'enfant terrible joked.
Apparently, actress Isabella Rossellini wrote and starred in a series of short films dealing with the subject set to air on the Sundance Channel. Needless to say, it became the evening's hot topic. A snail secreting a calciferous dart hidden within its body? Mmmm, I'm getting excited just thinking about it. Afterward, I headed up 30th Street to the Whistle Stop to drown out the devious images embedded in my head. Note to self: Add Raid to this week's shopping list. —Enrique Limón
You go, Meego
If you've read any discerning music blogs lately, chances are you've seen the name Walter Meego. Bloggers have been buzzing about these guys—yes, Meego's a group, not an individual—while comparing them to Hot Chip, Air and even David Bowie. Others call them the next LCD Soundsystem, poised to rise to indie-dance hipster stardom. Either way, their disco-party-in-space sounds make an impression.
“I suppose all of those comparisons—Air, Hot Chip, Daft Punk—make a lot of sense,” front man Justin Sconza tells CityBeat. “From a production standpoint, we're very influenced by groups like Justice and Daft Punk.”
Last year, Walter Meego—which recently relocated from Chicago to Los Angeles—toured with Louisville dance-punks VHS or Beta and shared stages with the likes of Vampire Weekend. This time around, they're headlining a show at U-31 on Friday, May 16 before a national tour with Australian electronic duo The Presets. And while Sconza doesn't outright dismiss comparisons to other electronic-based acts, he says the group's synth beats are only one facet of the Walter Meego equation.
“In terms of the most fundamental layers of the song itself,” Sconza says, “we often pull from people like Ariel Pink, The Beatles, even Fleetwood Mac.”While John Lennon and Lindsey Buckingham aren't exactly the first artists that come to mind when hearing Walter Meego, it's still easy to appreciate the band's similar ability to write an effing good song. And after several excellent EP releases, the group's debut album, Voyager (due out May 27), has already garnered rave reviews. If their live show is half as good as the album, we're in for an amazing night. —Justin Roberts
Greetings from Tijuana
Nortec Collective has been credited (by Time magazine no less) as innovators of the revolutionary, geo-cultural musical genre Nortec, or Norteño-techno music. But Pepe Mogt (aka “Fussible”) and Ramon Amezcua (aka “Bostich”) aren't concerned with such grand, postmodern labels.
For Mogt, the Baja group's latest, Tijuana Sound Machine (released May 6), is simply an attempt to fuse their geographical and musical roots by mining cultural influences and evolving as electronic composers.
“Every show is different,” Mogt tells CityBeat. “We can play a small show by ourselves or with the [traditional] musicians—and each time it's a little bit different and new to us.”
While the group has included up to five knob-twiddling artists, the core duo of Mogt and Amezcua currently anchor an eight-man performing lineup that's joined by a five-piece, Norteño instrumental section and a graphic artist in charge of a “visual interface network.”It's this juxtaposition of Old World acoustics against the bleeding-edge of electronica and technology that ostensibly defines the Nortec phenomenon. And Mogt is happy to wax techno-nerd about the group's newest toys, which include iPhones used to integrate computer software with a touch-screen instrument called the Tenori-On.
But tech-talk belies a decidedly analog turn in the Nortec sound. The more organic, melodically simple arrangements on TSM are far more “traditional” than anything on 2001's Tijuana Sessions Vol. I or its slyly named follow-up, Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3.These songs are almost unrecognizably pop-laden, trading schizophrenic data-dance for the merely anthropomorphic and danceable on “Norteño Del Sur,” “Mama Loves Nortec” and the title track. As a layman's comparison: Imagine the Dust Brothers spinning for Ozomatli, fronted by Beck.“Yeah, why not?” Mogt laughs warmly. “This record is far more based on our live performance—with the band sort of leading the way. And we've remixed Beck before, so it makes sense.”
Despite claiming childhood “hatred” of the regional Norteño, banda and ranchera they grew up with, Mogt says he and Amezcua are increasingly aware of how strongly those influences are embedded in their DNA.
“We've been letting ourselves really hear it again,” he says. “It's just really familiar, like a part of us. We can automatically pick out which instruments go where and play what. It comes to us very easy now, I think.”—Will K. ShillingNortec Collective will hold a listening party on May 15 at Live Wire in University Heights and plays at Planet Tijuana in Tijuana on May 17.
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