Photos by Dennis Scott

Lite Brite, Mondo Deco, The Babs Johnson Gang
Friday, Feb. 11, 2011 – Luigi’s Fungarden – Sacramento

Thirty minutes into watching a live band, the singer tells you, an audience member, to waddle. If you’ve ever seen local duo The Babs Johnson Gang play, you’re already prepared to start shaking your ass, because if you’re the best waddler during the “Waddle” song, you are finely rewarded. This time, the band offered up a tiny trophy, which was immediately swiped by a middle-aged woman who stepped onto the stage and started swinging her hips.

The Babs Johnson Gang opened Friday night’s show at Luigi’s Fungarden with Mondo Deco and Lite Brite, a local lineup that brought a night of ass-shaking rock ‘n’ roll to the cramped all-ages music venue.

The Babs duo play music that is both grungy and honky-tonk, rock ‘n’ roll and punk at the same time, using little more than distorted guitar coupled with crashing drums. Ten or so people were standing in front of the stage at the start of their first song. The two band members exchanged messy vocals that began in rants and would crescendo into shrieking howls over the drums and guitar, and then abruptly alternate into psychedelic, reverb-rich melody. Drummer Cory Gorey piped viciously into his harmonica between singing and drumming. More people filed in to watch. Smashing away intensely at the drums, Gorey tipped over his tom and later shoulder-bumped his mic into an obnoxious swivel around his head. Unaffected, he kicked the tom away and the two carried on, rarely pausing between songs. Midway through, guitarist Tim Pronovost stepped into the crowd, beating one of Gorey’s toms and handing it off to an audience member to play before returning to the stage. By the time they started playing “Waddle,” the crowd reached to the back of the room.

The Babs Johnson Gang was followed by Mondo Deco, one of Sacramento’s newer rock acts. The six-piece band stepped on stage looking like they walked out of a ‘60s film, sporting black and white pants, button-down shirts, suit jackets and bowties. In addition to two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer, the band featured two shimmying back-up singers/dancers in sparkling attire and boots. Singer/guitarist Jeremy Green, who also fronts local band Goodness Gracious Me, has the voice of a quintessential rock vocalist, hitting shrill, high-pitched screams and low notes, too. Guitarist Kolton James’ fingers glided along the neck of his guitar, delivering smooth solos and progressions with ease. Green counted in the last song, “Mouth Without a Muzzle.” At this point the crowd was thick and the room was hot. The band delivered one more dose of heavy guitars joined with a danceable beat, riling up the crowd to clap and sing along. Then the drums and bass slowed, the dancers slowed to a sway, and the crowd sang with Green until the song came to a harmonious halt.

Enter Lite Brite. Frontman Eddie Underwood kicked off the set with a power-driven guitar riff, summoning the start of the three-piece band’s hit “Big City.” Underwood’s gritty, reverb-filled screams matched with surging guitar distortion and grinding bass conjured up an amphitheater-style performance. The Led Zeppelin influence is apparent. Underwood leapt in the air, shredded his guitar and thrashed about his mane of curls simultaneously, pausing ever so often to thrust his guitar high above his head. Sweat dripping from his chin, he turned to jam his quivering guitar up against the face of his amp, delivering pulsing feedback throughout the room. Heads were rolling in the front row by the time they played their final song, “Space Shuttle.” The guitars shot off like sirens and the massive drums rolled in. By the end of the song, Underwood was on his knees face-down on the stage, moaning into the drum mic cupped in his hands.

At the end of the show, Submerge asked Babs Johnson Gang for their set list. Gorey answered, “We never use set lists. Stick that in your Submerge.”

Then he offered us a free CD.

Lite Brite