“We tend to think that a good album always has a couple of really unpredictable moments,” says Hot Lunch's Eric Shea. “If we just cranked out a bunch of balls-to-the-wall bangers, it would have been kind of boring.” So while the veteran players who make up this local quartet definitely nod to the Detroit school of raw power — think the MC5 or the Stooges — it's the open embrace of prog-rock and psychedelia that makes Hot Lunch's eponymous debut one of the most bracing heavy-rock efforts to come out of the Bay Area this year.
Shea had been plying a similarly minded style of muscular retro-rock with Parchman Farm when that band suddenly imploded in 2006. The singer landed on his feet, quickly assembling a talented group of locals, including Mensclub guitar hero Aaron Nudelman, plus the pulverizing rhythm section of drummer Rob Alper (former guitarist with garage-punks SLA) and bassist Charlie Karr, best known for his work with the Alternative Tentacles band Harold Ray Live in Concert.
Hot Lunch's fiery live performances soon made the group a fixture in S.F. clubs, but the gestation of its first album took considerably longer. Self-financed recording sessions last year finally found Hot Lunch capturing the fuzzed-out fury of its stage show on analog tape at lauded producer Tim Green's relocated Louder Studios in Grass Valley. The album's release on the small German label Who Can You Trust? in Europe and Tee Pee Records stateside led to sponsored recordings and concert appearances for Scion A/V and Converse, considerably raising its profile.
And deservedly so: Echoes of the MC5 and other more obscure '70s riff rockers like Sir Lord Baltimore and Dust are audible in the locomotive drive of “Handy Denny,” “She Wants More,” and the wah-powered “Killer Smile,” but the more straightforward salvos are balanced by a number of raucous curve balls. The band boldly recasts a tune by prog-rock icons/pariahs Emerson, Lake & Palmer, transforming “Knife Edge” from a virtuoso keyboard workout to a doom-laden dose of guitar mayhem. The album's second side ventures even further afield, tackling Arthurian legend on the nearly eight-minute “Lady of the Lake.” Replete with lyrics about wild mushrooms and crystal harps, the multipart song even has a British-accented spoken-word soliloquy that brings to mind “The Necromancer” from Rush's heady Caress of Steel. So whatever you can say about Hot Lunch, you can't accuse this band of being predictable.