Tag Archives: Hell Caminos

End of an Era: Gnarwhal’s Final Show

So, it’s been a month and I think I have sufficiently grieved over the passing of my favorite Honolulu band, Gnarwhal. As we reported last time, Erica Westly, rhythm guitarist and belting vocalist, has left the building… or island, or whatever. Their final show was at Mercury Bar on Thursday, the 24th of May, 2012. It also happened to be their best ever.

As per HEP style, we were actually late to the proceedings and missed another set by the newcomers Dead Dead Millies. I’ve heard tell their near weekly shows are paying off in stage experience. And, as every good nerd knows, experience is how you level up your sound.

Harshist was just setting up when we rolled in. I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about this new band featuring Steve Smith on drums, Travis Wiggins on guitar, Alex Nagata on bass, and Annie Hollis up front with the mic. I was quite excited for them to start as they sound checked.

Suddenly, a cacophony of noise erupted from the speakers louder than any other time I’ve ever been to Merc. Everyone in the band threw out all their instruments could muster in a screeching, ear splitting shriek, with Annie’s unfathomable screaming over the top. As the inexplicable sonic power continued past the minute mark, many of us began to wonder if this was the song or merely the most outrageous final sound check in the history of music.

And then, as quickly as it had come, the discord slid into a rhythmic headbanger. It was as if someone had turned off a spot light and we were left there, blinking the world back into focus. That world was one of 90’s inspired noise rock. From song to song, I felt so many tugs from the bygone decade that I could barely nail them down. This one would evoke Hole, that one felt very Rage Against the Machine. Even Smashing Pumpkins seemed to bleed into the rhythm-centric music. Over the top of the instrumentals, Annie Hollis’ voice lashed about like a whip. At times, she would sync up, flowing with enough rhymes and unrhymes to color the sound in a hip-hop vein. And at other times she would tear across the fabric of sound, eschewing harmony or beat to course with vocal adrenaline. These complete paradigm shifts came and went seemingly at random.

And that (aside from the banshee’s call at the beginning of the set) was my only hangup with this band: they never seemed to stay in one place long enough for me to sink in and get comfortable. Being kept on your toes can be fun and interesting, but at times I felt like those poor White House guards fighting Nightcrawler in X-2. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy Harshist, because I honestly did. They’re bringing a new, original sound to China Town and they’re talented. I’m confident that, with time, they will hook me. And, perhaps, change the scene in the process.

Up next was the band we all had been waiting for: Gnarwhal! Well, not exactly. With the addition of a bass, they had transformed into The Muskrats, a more pop-friendly band that might have been the Ed Sullivan Show version of Gnarwhal. The crowd danced swing instead of moshing and we all generally had a great time with the sticky-sweet faux-band.

But, of course, we had come to see Gnarwhal, so the bassist found his way off the stage and the main attraction kicked it into high gear with several of their Gold songs. The crowd surged and cut loose, getting rowdier with every song. During slow, deep songs, there was a ripple and twitch of growing excitement, only to explode when the music shot into the atmosphere.

They rolled into the familiar songs, the ones from Cow Belly I had fallen in love with originally. “Cadillac,” “Lies,” and “Fist for a Face” were all there. Adam even stepped out from behind the drums to exchange places with Erica for a song, though which one it was has escaped me in the world of booze and cigarette smoke.

Showing their solidarity as a band up until the end, Gnarwhal even played a brand new song in the middle of their set. I’ve never heard of a band putting out new music at their farewell show, but, then again, this was no normal band. Of course, they stumbled through it, but these candid moments only endeared them more to my heart. These were truly three people who enjoyed every second of playing together. And we enjoyed every moment with them. I will miss them more than any other band I’ve ever listened to.

They put up about ten songs, then tried to say they were done. The crowd wouldn’t have any of it, badgering them into a first, second, third encore. Still, something was missing and we all knew what it was. A call was taken up for a song, the Gnarwhal song, and the band obliged with the deal that this was their last, last, last, last song. The song to end them was the one to shake the walls with  the voices of the crowd, of the band, of the bartenders. Possibly the loudest noise I have ever heard was two hundred people screaming, “Tell me what you want to do tonight.”

Gnarwhal was a hard act to follow, but Hell Caminos managed to round out the night perfectly. The bass, drums, and guitar filled psychobilly rocked and rocked hard. So hard, in fact, that the band members crowd surfing during the set wasn’t enough. The upright bass, microphone, even the drums, all found their way off of the stage and into the crowd. If this were New Orleans, it would have been called looting, but here it was good old rock and roll.

For more photos, check out the Flickr and watch the Facebook and Twitter for updates on shows.

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Upstanding Youth and the Frozen Tundra of HEP

So, here are are again, almost a month with no updates at HEP. I would love to say that we’ve been far too busy with shows and raucous evenings to get around to posting, but that would be a lie. Instead, you get excuses about the self-imposed exile of NaNoWriMo (we didn’t win, by the way, but making it to 30,000 words was a small victory) and being poor.

In fact, the last show we attending was the Upstanding Youth 10 year anniversary on November 19th. We were only there for a few hours, however, as words were to be written on our novels. Even still, we caught all of Black Square‘s and Hell Camino‘s sets and half of the headliner’s.

Hell Camino played  slower and more honky tonk than I would have thought possible, obviously trying to play to the ska sound of the night. It was still great, however, and was really cool to see them work outside of the norm. They did still throw down a couple of psychobilly songs, however, which got our blood flowing.

Black Square were awesome as always. I’m not sure how many times I’ve listened to their latest CD, but I literally cannot stay seated when they play their golden songs (which are all of them, of course). My friends and I made our way through the fifty or so people who has amassed during the band’s first song (“In The Day,” if memory serves) and found that there was a lot of skanking going on in the front. Like, more than I had ever seen for this band, even at their own monthly headliner “Black Saturday.” We, of course, quickly joined in. The best moment of this set (and probably the whole show) was when they had steamrolled into a high energy song (“Slow Down” or “Black Square” stand out in my hazy memory) and all of us up front managed to look up at T. R. at the same moment. From the stage, he looked down at us very seriously and held up one hand, his index finger making a small circle. Instantly, the dancing devolved into a roaring mosh of twelve or so people jumping, tumbling, and smashing our way around the stage. I caught a glimpse of T. R.’s face wearing a smirk as he went back to playing.

The last bit of the show we caught was Upstanding Youth, the now 10 year old band. Before they went on, someone introduced them as the “best ska band of all time,” an extremely tall order that I don’t really agree with. To me, they were a pretty decent ska band, but, honestly, fairly vanilla. I am by no means an authority of the genre, however.

Really, after more than a year kicking around China Town and seeing many talented bands barely scraping twenty people out for a show, I was somewhat upset to see a hundred people flood into Anna’s for this set only. I recognized no one in this new crowd and it seems most of them had eschewed the previous two performances, despite their quality. As far as I can tell, Upstanding Youth had pulled a huge crowd from another scene (I guessed Waikiki, but that was a hunch) into the bar that I have only gone to see “Chi-To bands” perform at. Perhaps I am being too scene-insular.

NOTE: In this next breakdown paragraph, I’m going to only talk about what I heard at the UY show. I’ve since listened to their recorded stuff and found it to be quite different.

To give a fair shake to the band, they were good. Whereas I generally like punk with my ska, Upstanding Youth were straight ska with a side of pop. I can see how the band has become quite popular on Oahu as they have incorporated many of what I would consider to be ‘traditional Hawaiian’ sounds into their slow to mid-tempo songs. It was more music to groove than dance to. Except for a few brave souls, the farthest anyone in the crowd got to moving was a small sway or head bob. There isn’t anything wrong with that, of course, but it was hard for me to chill out after Black Square had shocked me into action.

That was really my issue with Upstanding Youth, the proclaimed “best ska band of all time”: Black Square was just generally more enjoyable. My quick and unscientific poll of the people I knew at the show confirmed my thoughts; You have to be a great band to follow Black Square. And Upstanding Youth, to me, was not great, but good at best.

Feel free to comment/argue with me in the comments, on our Facebook, or Twitter. Also, czech out some blurry cell phone photos on Flickr. I swear we’ll get a decent camera some day.

P.S.: Tomorrow night (9pm) there is a sweet show going on at Mercury. $5 for 5 bands, including the HEP favs Gnarwal, Coral Stabz, and The Substitoots. Not sure if we’ll make it, but totes buy us a beer if we do. We could use the booze.

What’s the Haps, HEPs?

Well, the self imposed exile that is NaNoWriMo continues for us here at HEP. Luckily for you other people, there are some awesome looking shows coming up this weekend and beyond!

First up, Josh86 and JetSetter Productions are throwing a special Friday edition of The Clampdown featuring 2face4, 13th Legion, campfire, and The Deliberates. I’ve not seen any of these bands save campfire, but, if the word on the street is anything, Anna Banana’s is the place to be tomorrow, Friday 11th, at 9pm. $5 cover, as usual.

Then, on Saturday at 9pm, Black Saturday will be rocking hard at The Venue. This second-Saturday-of-every-month show is always great fun (and was actually one of the first shows I ever attended in Hawaii, almost a year ago). November’s iteration includes my psychobilly love The Hell Caminos, the folk-indie-acoustic-hunky Discord & Rye (L: swoon), ska-reggae The Blue Ribbons, and, as always, the amazing talent of The Black Square. Not sure what the cover is, but I do believe they run a special on Mickey’s grenades for $2.

If a DJ is more your tune this weekend, check out thirtyninehotel for Luca Bacchetti, an internationally acclaimed artist making his impression on the island. These shows usually come with a steep cover, so be ready.

Finally, At Sea is going to affect Anna’s on Tuesday, the 15th. The amazing post-rock band was featured in a previous post and this will be our first outing to see them since. Backing up the musical emotion are Makua Valley Blast Test and Moon Occults the Sun, two other experimental bands. Get there early to set your mind in the mood with a few drinks. Cover is probably $5.

That’ll do it for shows up through Tuesday. We’re following some awesome shows next week, but we’ll talk about those more then! In the mean time, keep us informed through Facebook, Twitter, and email.

Keep rocking, Honolulu.