A Crazy Combo
Punk-rock-hip-hop and roots-pop, all in one evening.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Back in June of 2005, a crowd was gathered on the lawn at Big Sur’s Henry Miller Library for an all-day benefit concert. Couples cuddled on blankets and took in music by a wide variety of regional and local acts. Other people lay in the grass looking up through the spokes of redwood branches—they had been put in a glowing coma by the fine entertainment and, possibly, by drinking a little too much beer too early. Brie was consumed. Small talk ensued. It was a pleasant day.
Then a band took the stage that most people in the crowd had never heard of. They were from San Francisco and called themselves Chow Nasty. As some of the audience stretched their legs or returned from a bathroom break, the trio’s guitarist and singer, Damon Harris, started chanting “Un, ungawa, baby’s got the power,” like it was a slogan at a fiery political rally. A few seconds later, the sunglasses-clad Joey Enos coolly laid down a jack-hammering bass line, while multi-instrumentalist Zac Hewitt programmed the band’s drum machine to play an irresistible and massive beat. As Harris strummed some Clash-like riffs and Hewitt started wailing on a harmonica, some festivalgoers were immediately up and dancing, while others sat stunned by the manic intensity of the trio.
By the time Chow Nasty got to their last number, the call-and-response “Boom Cha Cha,” Harris was covered in sweat and writhing about on the library’s lawn. By the end of the 40-minute set, it was clear that there were few in the crowd who would forget the name Chow Nasty.
In the two years since that day, Chow Nasty has made impressive inroads into the music industry. The trio has headlined gigs at top San Francisco venues The Independent and the Great American Music Hall. This January, the band released a nine-song EP titled Ungawa…the Party Starts Right F**king Now, which features their number “Ungawa” remixed by rap heavies Arabian Prince (who was a founding member of NWA) and XXXchange, of the underground group Spank Rock.
Now, the trio is getting ready to release its debut full-length Super (Electrical) Recordings. Produced by indie hip-hop legend Peanut Butter Wolf (founder of Stones Throw Records), the CD comes on like a dance music party for people who grew up on a steady diet of punk rock mixed with hip-hop.
While it’s hard to imagine Chow Nasty’s feral performance intensity being captured on record, Super (Electrical) Recordings is brimming with energy. The opening number, “Thick Shake,” sounds like animated “Rock the Casbah”-era Clash with a dose of old-school horns. “Floor is Bouncin,’” which features a guest spot by Pep Love of Bay Area rap collective Hieroglyphics, is stripped down dance music played on discount store electronics, while “Hot Sticky Nikki” is a rock song with hand claps and copious blasts of harmonica.
Harris says that while in the studio Chow Nasty got into adding other instrumentation like horns and congas to the trio’s sound. The singer is hoping that Chow Nasty will get a revolving group of musicians playing horns and congas at their upcoming live shows.
“We are trying to expand into a family, like Parliament,” he says, referring to the legendary ’70s funk band.
Whether the trio expands or not, Chow Nasty puts on an explosive live show. “We definitely do everything possible to bring the crowd into it,” Harris says.
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Opening for Chow Nasty at Wednesday’s Monterey Live show will be The Blunts, a four-piece that features CSUMB sophomore Andrea Blunt, along with her brothers, vocalist/guitarist Jacob and multi-instrumentalist Joshua, plus drummer Jesse Hannah. The band plays ragged, rootsy rock numbers and well-crafted piano pop ballads.
At Blunts’ Monterey Live show a few months ago, there were several high points. One was “I Walk Alone,” a compelling Americana song where Andrea and Jacob traded lines and sang harmony vocals. Another one, “Running,” started off ballad-like before revving up to almost punk rock intensity.
The louder rock moments were contrasted by the quieter songs performed when Andrea moved to the piano. As Andrea’s strong vocals filled the room, “Can’t You Guess” recalled the work of singer/songwriter Tori Amos.
Currently, The Blunts are recording their song “Green Leaf Canopy” for the upcoming CSUMB compilation album. Andrea says the band hopes to have completed an EP and a full-length album by the end of the summer.
CHOW NASTY AND THE BLUNTS play Monterey Live, 414 Alvarado St. in Monterey, Wednesday, March 28, at 8:30pm. $5/students; $7/general admission. 877-548-3237.