‘Lookin’ out my back door’

John Fogerty toasts the BeachLife crowd before ripping into “Down Around the Corner” at the close of his set Sunday. Photo by J.P. Cordero/BeachLIfe Media 

BeachLife’s fourth edition establishes a tradition

by Gavin Heaney

The cold doldrums of winter were dispelled this weekend as the cursed marine layer finally broke open and the heavens poured sweet sunshine back upon us. The first notable south swell also rolled in, bringing the sand bars back after a long, strange absence. Coincidence or is it BeachLife? The BeachLife Festival has become a local ritual now, like a village spring dance around the Maypole, and is a harbinger of the golden season of the South Bay, sweet summertime. What better way to herald its arrival than a bacchanal celebration of music and community?

On Friday afternoon, the alt-rock mothership landed. The Toxic Airborne Event brought their homespun indie rock to the High Tide, with a modern Springsteen “Thunder Road” style delivery. The songs wove together in acts to tell the tales of Holden Caulfield now grown up, on his way to a mid-life crisis. The peak of the wave of youth has passed. This is the time of life in which decisions made affect the final outcome. They rallied the crowd to sing along, “I’m so sorry, I really lost my head!” And the whole band pounded on the drums maniacally, driving away the darkness in tribal therapy. Their songs were relatable on first listen, and that takes unobservable skill. Their cover of “I Fought The Law” was probably meant to channel The Clash, but I couldn’t help hearing Springsteen’s passion emulating from singer Mikel Jollett. This is an American rock band worth checking out. 

LP electrifies the Seaside Lagoon’s Low Tide stage on Friday at BeachLife. Photo by Ron Vasquez/BeachLife Media

The rock opera continued with an astonishing performance by LP. Their entrance was as close to an extraterrestrial landing as you could conjure. Their huge, sonic dramatics were like M83 meeting Queen. It was so climactic, I hoped they planned for some dynamics because it did not seem possible to go any higher from there. Laura Pergolizzi pilots this starship, navigating with her mini acoustic. Her vocal rocketed above the stardust sands of the Low Tide Stage, resounding like Geddy Lee from Rush. Her stage presence is commanding and her Glam rock chic is the ultimate non-binary beauty, fabulous and immune to aging and irrelevance. 

There is a mini Lollapalooza happening at BeachLife each year, keeping alt-rock in its lineup and those Pixies are still cutting their teeth on the edge. Don’t pretend to like it, it’s not supposed to be all that easy to digest. The band gives you tension so that they can then take it away with a soothing liquid silver blend of screaming and distortion that could not be more musical. Frank Black’s melodic angst is exerted in a flawless rock singer’s voice that drifts uncannily from him. Their originality is somewhat undecipherable, but one thing is certain — they are pop melody liberated from pop formula. A standard song structure is hard to find and I think that’s what puzzles people. Pixies are, after all, naughty, mischievous little fairies wreaking havoc in a fun maniacal way, and most people gravitate to order and formula out of familiarity. This would explain why songs “Here Comes Your Man” and “Where Is My Mind” are the closing hits. Great songs, but their sickening performance of “Tame” really melted my mind this time. Festival attendee Matt Macmahon agreed, stating enigmatically, “I’ll live right here on the fringe of everything.” Which at the time summed it all up perfectly. The Black Keys closed out Friday night with a stompy blues swirl of progressive rock. Dan Auerbach channeled Prince’s falsetto over a sleek T. Rex “Mambo Sun” groove while performing their song “Everlasting Light.” If you rip off two artists at once, it becomes all original again, and this song is sexy. His guitar solo during “Howling For You” tapdanced primitively on “Rhapsody In Blue” while the crowd bellowed its catchy wordless chorus. Their cover of “Have Love Will Travel” illustrates the band’s blueprint from the very start: hard raw riffs and catchy, crossroads lyrics. They bring the small stage to the big stage, creating spatial intimacy that makes you feel close to the band even from the back of the crowd.

There was no time to shake off the fairy dust on Saturday, it just rolled over for me with The Rainbow Girls at The Speakeasy stage. Three indie folk fairies from Bodega Bay, California, soothed us with their tight three-part harmonies and alt-country musical stylings. Like a sister super group, they exchanged instruments and roles, a truly integral unit. Their song “American Dream” spoke to a dream deferred as they pined to “someday own some land,” striking a chord with the new generation’s housing crisis. But they were not all so serious and when some sound trouble erupted on stage, they flew into an acapella cover of Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning,” who was loudly performing nearby. Their dorky banter between songs was disarming and with sarcastic swagger they sloganed, “Sex, Drugs and Rainbow Girls!” they got me.

Band of Horses beat the tambourine with a stick. Their vibe bites you hard like a snake on the trail, purging the pain with each heartfelt pulse. Like Pixies, they have that chimerical collection of ineffable qualities that presents as an inimitable unicorn. They were a sound bath of delightful, driving distortion and Ben Bridwell’s vocal cadence hangs out in a fresh upper mid-range space that resonates effervescent cool. Their hit “No One’s Gonna Love You” is a total tear-jerker. I certainly cried long overdue tears beneath my aviators, realizing there’s something about the beauty in a song that evokes it. It’s not so much a sadness,  but a sweet irony that makes me weep with relief. The band closed with a raunchy cover of The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” bringing the ‘ternative to the y’all’ as the lead guitarist sprayed squelches of spurting overdrive on the crowd in a filthily haphazard way. 

Saturday evening, Sublime was the greatest guilty pleasure. Rome didn’t need to endanger himself singing the multitude of politically incorrect lyrics their songs offer because the crowd boisterously sang them out for him at the top of their lungs. Eric Wilson’s perfect P-Bass punk 90s precision demands the band stay up to a frenetic speed. There was no slowing down and the band powered through delivering a filibuster of the reggae, punk and folk that their masterpiece album 40 oz. To Freedom is famous for. While classics like “BadFish” and “Date Rape” were the highlight, equally enjoyed were the acoustic tunes at the end “KRS One” and “Rivers of Babylon” and they threw in an encore of Sublime hits from the third album. It was probably the biggest, baddest Low Tide party I’ve seen yet at BeachLife.

Soul Sunday morning was reggae gospel as The Wailers brought us in from the cold. They performed their beloved canon of hits with the purity and integrity established by Bob Marley. One newer song “One World, One Prayer” had a sleek dance hall vibe and a meaningful message that keeps the lineage of The Wailer’s music alive. The soul fire continued with the mighty Mavis Staples and her band. She had the Low Tide congregation soul clapping and singing “I’ll Take You There”. Her deep gravelly voice and laughter was infectious as she told Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand that he might have a chance with her. “Mayor, maybe next time,” she joked. “Y’all ain’t seen the last of me!”

John Fogerty performed flawlessly with the honed talent for which he is famous. Supported by a family band of his sons, he delighted in a kind of homecoming. He joyously performed Creedence Clearwater Revival hits with the tight-knit tenacity that drove just as hard as when CCR stormed the pop-rock music scene in the 60s. The grit and blues-driven swagger of Fogerty is inimitable and for someone from northern California, it’s still unclear where his southern accent came from. “Bad Moon Rising”, “Up Around The Bend” into “Green River” which he has said is one of his most cherished songs, kicked off the set. Later an accordion gave a zydeco flourish to “Lookin’ Out My Backdoor” adding to the carousel fling of the song. “Traveling Band” was raw-powered and has not lost a beat since it was written. It’s an inspiration to see this man still so primed for the moment and performing in the pocket. The age limit on rock n’ roll has expired with artists like John Fogerty and Mavis Staples still bringing undiluted performances of their classic, iconic music to BeachLife. He also took time out to celebrate his wife in his newer song “Joy Of My Life” and gratefully acknowledged her for tirelessly working to regain ownership of his material, as well as the 69’ Rickenbacker that he played at Woodstock. 

“I may not get to heaven, but I walk with angels every day…I’m the luckiest man alive,” he sang. “You are the joy of my life.” He kicked off “Keep on Chooglin’,” perhaps CCR’s greatest jam song, with some whammy bar bending, grinding the engine into gear before coming around the mountain with his blues harp blowing as the train gained speed. Then the drum break heaved up coal as the engine exploded in a raucous groove of smokey blues. He rotated major and minor blues guitar riffs churning and stoking the song’s funky frenzy. Dancing broke out like California wildfire, and all the boys lined up with Pops to crush the ending into a new chapter of the band’s history. Fogerty gave a champagne toast to the crowd consummating the celebration before kicking off into an encore of “Down on The Corner”, easily one of the funkiest good time grooves ever written, which sent the audience doubled over, dancing in a jubilee. 

As I sit here reflecting and writing, the May grey has settled back in and I have an odd mixed feeling of joy and sadness as I now go back to the normal routine of my daily life. “Who’ll stop the rain?” John Fogerty asked us in his classic song on Sunday. For a moment, it was BeachLife. ER 


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