by Keith Boyd
Sometimes it pays to know a bit about a band you’re going to see. I could have avoided any number bruised body parts and ringing ear sessions by following that advice. That being said, what’s better or more thrilling than a happy accident? Such was the situation I found myself in last night at local dive bar outpost and SD treasure, The Whistle Stop. I hadn’t heard either band before but I had a vague notion that Cool Ghouls were a part of the amazing, 60’s inflected music scene in San Francisco. Well, they are and an utterly delightful accident seeing them it was indeed!
First up were San Diego band Bad Vibes. I dug their meaty, full throttle approach to things. There was a definite whiff of Doors wafting through their sound. Also what I would characterize as Biker bar Pink Floyd. I’m not saying that their sound was just derivative and lacked any originality though. Far from it! Their tunes were dynamic with sudden pivots in rhythm and tonality to keep the ear engaged. Great guitar playing from both of the players and special mention must be made of the relentlessly blissful stage presence and power of the bass player. He was a hair dervish! For nearly an hour while dancing, leaping and gyrating, his playing was completely solid. I like the band’s name and while I get where they’re coming from (a darkish, rocked up Nick Cave zone) I think they pump out just as many good vibes as “Bad” ones!
What can I say about headliners, Cool Ghouls? I was instantly won over by their sound. It was all chiming, jet plane guitars, limber yet grounded bass and their secret weapon? Beautiful 3 part harmonies. I for one, simply don’t hear vocals done like this in a “Rock” idiom very often. Pop music is replete with backup singers on stage and in studios. This wasn’t that. It was three equally adept singers taking the turns at the lead while the others blended seamlessly. At times recalling the soaring sound of The Byrds at their most heart-warming, Cool Ghouls made a beautiful noise.
I may be wrong about this but according to my observations and calculations the (contemporary) Grandaddies of the SF Psych soaked sound are Wooden Shijps. I’m sure there are others who were (according to whomever) first, different, more original or better but when I heard Wooden Shijps several years ago I thought to myself, “Finally the kids are getting weird again!”. And while many of these bands are excellent they tend to skew towards the noisier Punk infused side of the garage. Cool Ghouls plays it much smarter. They can rock for sure! However, they seem to have an instinctual grasp of dynamics and hence they paint with a very broad sonic brush. They have tunes from all over the spectrum and ply them all with equal skill. After the gig I bought their (excellent) newest album, A SWIRLING FIRE BURNING THROUGH THE RYE and having basically had it on locked repeat all day have recognized several of the selections they played. One song that, while not on the album, was an instant favorite was the Green Tambourine-esque, The Creature that I Am.
If you are looking for some of the echoes that flow through their sound think The (aforementioned) Byrds, early Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and a dash of Electric Prunes, Blues Magoos and Moby Grape. Please don’t mistake these signifiers as some sort of jumbled, grab bag of tropes and put ons. Cool Ghouls might be rooted in another era but they are flowering in this one.
A special thanks must be given to my fellow LAME OLD COP ON A NIGHT OUT-PMK. In heaven, instead of angel wings he will receive a Gold-Chain and Cheetah tunic!