It’s Always The Feeling But Never The Words

French Reform


Ugly as Hell

Thursday January 23rd

Café Coda

Down from the mountains. Coughing sawdust, chainsaws ringing in my ears; my arms are infected with poison oak. I look like a victim of Fukushima, or maybe a once a week Krokodil user.

I’m supposed to be pricing steel and hassling over drug costs, but here I am at the Winchester Goose, performing a highly scientific study to determine how many tasters the bartenders will serve me before kicking me out.

I’m on my third when I hear someone say:

“Hey buddy.”

The jig is up… but the bartender is washing silverware, completely unconcerned, and no one else is within whispering distance. It takes me a long moment to realize it is the Evil Twin Heretic tap-handle—a painted, grinning resin maniac, with wide eyes and hair on fire.

“Try the Deviled eggs,” he tells me.

I say “okay” and now the bartender is looking at me, sideways. I slough it off and order the deviled eggs—extremely pleasing. I’m eating the fourth half when the Heretic pipes up again:

“Go to the Coda show tonight.”

Heeding advice from a beer tap, the whole concept has me on the fence, but then I remembered the eggs. It was right on about those.

Chico is haunted by ghosts. Over the course of the evening I see so many souls of the departed, flittering among us. They show up in the crowd, on-stage, and smoking out on the sidewalk. Ghosts represent the past, and they bring something else to the table—a folding together of tradition and modernity, the passing of a torch, the knowledge of the dead.

There’s a three dollar cover for the show— too cheap. It’s like the live music scene is stuck in a time warp. Everything else goes up: movies, baseball games, cable television; but you can scrape the change out of your couch and three talented bands will entertain you all night long.

I guess the price is right because the place is packed even before Ugly as Hell, the first band, plays a note. The four-piece blasts out a driving set of blues-based rockers and swampy creepers. Ugly as Hell is a timeless band—they could have been playing a blues bar in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, back in the 1950’s, but here they are now. Logan Dunn’s soulful vocals carry his songs, and then they shine when bass player Chloe Merritt’s voice joins in.

Sisterhoods followed with a pulsing set. Another four-piece, but the bass, guitar, drums and operatic singing of chanteuse Nikki Sierra is also accompanied by various electronic loops and melodies. The songs are simply orchestrated; built for maximum drama. The overall effect is both energizing and hypnotic. The band’s powerful songs reach from one climax to the next.

The final group of the night is French Reform—a dance act that isn’t afraid to wear its eighties influences on its sleeve. The music—driven by keyboards oozing melodies, and Aric Jeffries’ frantic, emotive vocals—is forlorn, manic, and eminently danceable. It slides into your backbone and makes you move. Early on Jeffries chants about everything falling down, and midway through the set the band is giving away ep’s; free music and a three dollar cover charge. The band is a crystal—the sounds it generates are solid and perfectly formed. The music builds, grows, and stretches for crescendo. French Reform kisses you on the mouth, and you can taste the wine. Then they punch you in the stomach. The music ends with Jeffries intoning, “It’s always the feeling, but never the words,” a verse that sums up the difficulties of trying to describe music in print.

The past becomes the present; it gets tilled under, only to re-emerge. Like an apple grown from seed, the tree never comes out the same way twice, but its roots are undeniable. Thursday night at Coda, for three measly bucks, the audience got to see the modern manifestation of generations of musical styling. I’m going to have to take the Heretic’s advice more often.

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Bob Howard has been living, working, and writing in Northern Califonria since he moved to Chico in early 2000. In January 2011, he and his wife Trish relocated to Los Molinos, 30 minutes north of Chico, where they are the proud proprietors of the Double Happiness Farm. There they grow organic food, ornamental plants and trees, and generally work to enjoy the beauty of this great region.