Catching Fire with Comets Side Projects

Common chatter has it that it's best to leave while the gettin's good. I took off from San Francisco in 2002 because I was broke — scraping bucks because making a "living" freelancing here landed me a hefty chunk of change short come tax time. Luckily, Seattle's irreverent altweekly, The Stranger, was there to pick up the pieces, hiring me on as its music editor for four glorious, Rainier BeerÐfueled years. But no matter how many memorable local shows or repeated introductions to that Amazonian Nirvana bassist the Northwest had to offer, this city has always had a stronger grip on me than that cloud canopy of a (very picturesque) region ever could. And so I'm back, attempting to fill the large loafers of Garrett Kamps as SF Weekly's new music editor.

While I may have relocated for a minute, I always kept tabs on this town. I occasionally freelanced for the local papers, I streamed KUSF-FM online, and, well, I tried to stay up on all the various sonic freakouts the Coachwhips' John Dwyer fathered like bastard children. (His latest evil spawn, Yikes!, mucked things up at the Eagle a couple of weeks ago, producing a very Coachwhips-sans-keyboards racket, with Dwyer's mangled vocals at a relatively lower anxiety level. Check out Yikes! on March 22 at 12 Galaxies.) Now that I've returned to the land of outrageous rent, the local music scene feels as prosperous as ever, with indie artists Rogue Waveand Film Schoolgoing sorta big time, and E-40 getting much love from MTV (which has otherwise devolved into a dumping ground for reality shows about spoiled twentysomethings who are either preggers or fucking their housemates). Closest to my heart, the prolific acid-rocking practitioners Comets on Fire have produced three new projects (before wrapping up work on a new record with Tim Green at Prairie Sun Studios in Cotati). Noel Von Harmonson released a Resipiscent Records mind-fuck — which the label promises "jellies your knees" — called Born on the 4th of July. The sadistic noise charmer most likely leaves even the lasting ringing in your ears silent by the end of that one. For the hours when you don't want to feel the splatter of your gray matter, though, drummer Utrillo Kushner teamed up with the Cuts' Garett Goddardand Drunk Horse's Eli Eckert (among other guests) for the softer side of Comets, Colossal Yes' Acapulco Roughs. If the bubbly rainbow artwork by (ex-Lookout! head) Chris Appelgren wasn't a clue, this is sunshiny, melodic music — although there are hints of melancholy waterworks behind all that bright scenery. Maybe the bittersweet feeling has something to do with Kushner using a piano as the focus, plinking away as he sings in sweet and sad tones about love and war hidden in literary metaphors. This is one gorgeous record, sounding at times both triumphant and crushed, but always pretty tender. While Acapulcoincludes traces of trombone, flute, and "Fozzy trumpet," the band was a three-man affair at a recent Hotel Utah performance. The group returns to the stage, opening for Kelley Stoltz, on April 15 at Cafe Du Nord. (No word on when Kushner's Bob Seger tribute band will surface, however.)

Comets frontman Ethan Miller also finished a record of reflective jams for his new Howlin' Rain outfit, which debuts on disc this spring on Birdman. Being privy to an advance demo — on permanent rotation on my iPod — I can say that this record is never a totally mellow affair. Miller laces elements of Rod Stewart and the Band through moments of heavy feedback, the yowling noise tempered only long enough to build to a big, satisfying release. More on that album as we get closer to it hitting the shelves — but I know it's already in my top five for 2006.

Finally, Comets are also one of a number of Bay Area heavies on the killer upcoming Invadersrock comp, out on Kemado April 25 (other local contributors include High on Fire, the Fucking Champs, Saviors, and Parchman Farm).

Oh, and yeah, the name of this column comes from a song title by one of my favorite blooze-punk acts, the Immortal Lee County Killers — swampy, sweaty, Southern Molotov-rock for those who think lovesickness is an insufferable fever to bear.

One final plug: In nonlocal band news, for fans of all things Liars(which includes all things ex-Liars), check out No Thingsat the Hemlock on March 25 for a serious blast of artsy no-wave that gives new meaning to the phrase "broken beat."

 
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