Bella Novela performs at Alex’s Bar. Photos by Sarah Bennett
One of the common complaints about Long Beach’s music scene is that instead of having a bunch of good shows to choose from on any given weekend night, there is usually only one. It’s never, “Are you going to that show?” but more, “Are you going to the show?”
For live music fans who have lived in places like Oakland, Austin or even Los Angeles, the lack of choices on a Friday night might seem like a drag, but with Long Beach’s diverse sonic tastes making it a hub for musicians across all spectrums, you better believe that the one show will be an interesting one.
Such was the case last Friday night when Alex’s Bar hosted a four-deep lineup of local bands that ran the gamut from female-fronted surf rock to neo-neanderthal EDM. Though I arrived after the lovely Latina chicas of San Pedro’s Bombón performend their ’60s-inspired Port City surf songs, their energy carried over into the next act, Long Beach’s own drama rock, Bella Novela.
For at least the last six years (not sure when they actually started, but I first saw them in 2008), Bella Novela has been the Long Beach band that should be blowing up. It’s bizarre that even sound-saturated Los Angeles hasn’t yet fallen for the three-piece’s Metallica-meets-Queen aesthetic of indie-pop songs played with ferocious technical urgency, even though they remain the top-ranked band for Frank & Heidi’s “Stay or Go” weekly radio segment.
On Friday night, Bella Novela was in full force with singer Jackie Ojeda banging away at her Novation keyboard, thrusting her powerful vocals toward a bouncing audience. Guitarist Jacob Heath, as usual, straight-face shredded his metal-inspired riffs, but it was drummer Jannea McClure–wearing a black shirt with feminine sequin sleeves–who stole the show. McClure started most songs with her sticks in the air and as soon as her cue hit, she roared into a thundering whirl of flung hair and relentless beats that uptempoed the front-and-center keyboards, keeping all eyes on the back of the stage.
Restavrant came out next, performing an entirely different kind of electronic-infused sound. This two piece originally from Texas and now living in Long Beach hammers out what has been called “junkyard high art,” a foot-tapping combination of trompy bluegrass and found percussion accompanied by other industrial sounds and scratchy vocals put through a duct taped vintage mic.
Their ever-evolving makeshift drum kit–this time comprised of paint buckets, hubcaps, photo filter screens and a metal folding chair–always includes an old-school MPC drum machine, which pumps out simple sample beats in loops that percussionist J. State wildly flails at with his wooden sticks. The result is a visceral, gritty, sweaty, heaving mass of found sounds anchored by the aching melodies in Troy Murrah’s sliding guitar work.
While electronic accompaniments play backup to both Bella Novela and Restavrant’s live acts, headliners Fartbarf are a three-keyboard kind of band, one that pairs its ivory-driven songs with an actual drummer to create a post-apocolyptic soundscape for the new-rave generation.
The South Bay freakazoids also don NASA space suits and neaderthal masks for their live set, which on Friday was in promotion of their only album, Dirty Power, 37 minutes of vocal modulation and low-end theories fit for headbanging and dancing alike. After hearing rock-driven bands incorporate electronic into their sounds for most of the night, the audience was happy to mosh to some live-drum-infused basement-worthy EDM tunes.
Like most live music shows in Long Beach, Alex’s Bar on Friday night was a jumble of sounds, people and origins. But from the power-metal-pop of Bella Novela to the space age layer cake of Fartbarf and every industrial hilbilly Restavrant jam in between, the presented sonic diversity was united by the common ground of electronic instruments, a versatile tool for local musicians.