Burger Records is a California garage rock label which started in 2008. It now represents more than 100 artists. The Observatory is a rock venue in Orange County that replaced Galaxy Concert Theater. This past weekend, with the help of Burger records, Observatory celebrated their five year anniversary with a weekend long festival of more than one hundred indie, psychedelic, punk, electronic, and garage rock groups.
Their Sunday show was headlined by The Orwells, Crystal Castles, and the oddly placed hip hop veteran, Too $hort. Out of the 2 stages of 12 simultaneous hours of music, here are the most notable groups of my experience. (My apologies to those that I couldn’t see and won’t be able to mention)
When I first entered, I passed the Constellation room, a 300 capacity space that feels like 50. I got their in time for VAJJ, a 4 piece teenage girl party punk band. Their set was unconcerned with guitar chops, singing in tune, or being in rhythm together. Their pure energy is what made them exciting. They set the tone for the rest of the night.
At the same time was retro, indie, electronic rock band Moving Units in The Observation Room, a much larger space that has in the past hosted the likes of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Silversun Pickups, and Devo. There was ample room there for mosh-pits and standing space. Moving Units gets my award for most under-appreciated band of the night. Their set included reverb drenched guitars, synthesizers, backing tracks, and unique songs of all things love and desire. They reminded me of The Bravery or Interpol. They are regulars at Observatory and deserved a bigger, drunker crowd.
Back to the Constellation room, WALTER introduced some of the best guitar of the night inside 4 chord punk songs such as “Nursery Rhyme” which ironically was a fast song about mortality with lyrics like, “Dead on a weekend, hasn’t had much of a life.”
Walter later joined The Meatbodies, a similar, but more established punk band with a following that sings the hooks and knows how to crowd surf. In fact, this group wins for best crowd-surfers of the night. Walter’s guitar cries between short lyrics and artful background harmonies. It sounds like Ty Segall or Tijuana Panthers who played later that night. Meatbodies’ songs are fast and punk rock. Their vocalist is thin sounding but attractive with the timbre of the Beatles. Check out their song “Disorder.”
The Pesos continued the party with a 60s rock sound. Their lyrics were relaxed which at times, echoed the story telling of Jim Morrison: gently morbid, existential, and slightly awkward. One fan was unimpressed by their similarity to the Growlers. Coincidentally, bassist of the Growlers came up next with his side project, Cat Signs. Unfortunately, he did not live up to the Growlers’ reputation, and instead came off tired. This was most likely due to the fact that they came from a show in Arizona only 8 hours earlier (a fact the singer was keen to mention). What resulted was weak vocals and a stale ambience. They did wake up eventually with surf guitar lines and a jungle beat. But overall, they unfortunately get the most disappointing band of the night. They are learning. In the meantime, check out the Growlers.
The funniest band of the night goes to The Lemons. (Honorable mention to Unkle Funkle) They are a 6 piece Chicago band that’s more of a comedic shtick, rather than a traditional band. They played segments of covers, like the ending of “Hey Jude,” which gave the saxophone player an excuse to squeak with the compelling awkwardness of a failed American Idol audition. They played an original, then a Beatles song, then a Bob Dylan song, but then joked that it was all the same song. They were basically just fucking around. It was a delightful musical train wreck.
Later, Chicano Batman took the stage. They had the look of Indie Mariachis with suits, bow ties, and mullets. Their songs were polished and bounced seamlessly from one genre to another: soul, disco, funk, Spanish rock, surf rock, 60s ballads, and Cumbia. Their lead guitarist stole the award for best guitarist of the night, but the lead singer was the main focus. He had a sexy falsetto that would fall into a comical vaudeville thing. It sounded like Eddie Murphy to me. He was a showman who slathered the organ and juggled the guitar, voice, and bass. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.
The most unpredictable band of the night goes to The Orwells. Lead singer Mario Cuomo had no control over the mic, and his voice would go in and out, and out of tune. It felt more like a sound check at start. In fact, he probably pissed off the sound engineers. He arrogantly pranced around drunkenly and clumsily, oh, and with his dick out some of the time. When he wasn’t trying to be an oblivious rock star, he yelled with attitude, authority, and provocation. In the middle of the last song, he grabbed a case of PBR and walked off stage. The band was confused and vamped on four chords for several minutes. They just played louder and louder, then stopped, and walked away. They left their guitars behind which then would feedback into the amps for a few minutes. They didn’t give a shit, but at the same time, they were unforgettable.
Crystal Castles was the group everyone had been waiting for. I talked to a fan who staked his spot in the front row more than 5 hours before the band took the stage. The wait dragged on but it was worth it. They started with heavy rave beats that scarred the ears at first. With a schizophrenic light show, the new singer, Edith Frances, looked like a dreamy silhouette. She was beautiful, seductive, and possessed. Her screaming pierced through the fog of sound like the way we all imagine ourselves doing when no one’s around, without judgement. But she also whispered and sang under a veil of vocoders. It felt like a dream, or perhaps, a beautiful nightmare. Ethan Kath, the engineer behind the songs, masterfully controlled the set between his DJ booth and mysterious electronics. They were easily the best set and light show of the night.
The event was a wash of sweat, crowd surfing, beach ball groupies, weed, and alcohol. The line between what was a show, and what was music was tested. Those who preferred one over the other missed out. But overall, fans were not disappointed. I left with unforgettable memories, mixed emotions, and new music that has become a part me. I experienced diverse legacies, collective youth, and unapologetic angst. I left thinking about what one fan said to me with his 12 year old brother, “this is a great way to hear new music, and feel that energy.” – “This is what makes California so great.”
Written by: Barmey Ung