Tag Archives: Casbah


Kid Koala LIVE video


Legendary turntablist Eric San, aka Kid Koala, recently brought his “Vinyl Vaudeville” tour to San Diego. Not only was I lucky enough to see him and his amazing showcase turn the Casbah into a gigantic, paper-airplane-throwing party, I got to chat with the Ninja Tune craftsman for a while before the show. Check out this quick segment wonderfully shot by Albert Rascon. While it’s not as good as being there, it gives a nice little peek into an amazing evening of music.


Almost 10 Questions for A.A. Bondy

Who: Fat Possum artist Auguste Arthur Bondy (aka Scott)
What: The Alabaman singer/songwriter plays haunting, minimalist folk with introspective and haunting lyrics
Why: Bondy’s third album, Believers, just dropped and ups the ante by plugging in the sound but still finds the timeless troubadour on the outskirts of Anywhere, U.S.A.
Where: The Casbah
When: Bondy kicks off his tour in San Diego on Wednesday night with the support of Nik Freitas

Scott McDonald: Just out of curiosity, where does the Scott come from?
A.A. Bondy: It was my great-grandmother’s middle name.

SM: You did your first record in N.Y., the second in Mississippi and Believers in California. Was it important to change your geography?
AAB: I seemed to be following something around. I’m not quite sure what, and I’m not sure if I still am. But I think I’ll be at the beach for a while.

SM: Believers moves more to an electric sound than the first two albums. Conscious move or just happen that way?
AAB: There were electric songs on the first and second records, but obviously, this whole record is electric. I just liked the sustain — and the color — of it. I felt like being more 20th-century, I guess.

SM: Believers has a very lonely, cinematic feel. Can you talk a little about the writing process?
AAB: I think it’s just more blurred. And it is more like a film score at times. There’s the song, which is simple, and then we kind of scored the song itself.

SM: Did you spend much of the process alone?
AAB: I just wanted it to feel like an unknown landscape. The first-time-you’ve-been-somewhere kind of thing. I don’t think I was aiming for lonely. There’s a difference between lonely and alone.

SM: In what ways has the last few years of go-go-go helped (or hurt) the creative process?
AAB: It’s been good and bad, like anything else. A home out in the wind. Then, don’t like it in the wind — like the song says.

SM: Prefer it solo or with the band?
AAB: We are four in number, and I like it better in a lot of ways. I did solo for a long time. Seems like a lot of people do it that way till they save their pennies and get a band.

SM: Read an interesting quote from you that said Believers was “the last couple of years in one long exposure.” Is that indicative of your process as a whole?
AAB: A lot happened in the two years prior to this record. And the way it came out in the songs is the way I felt about that time passing. The hungover walk to the elevator, Mount Rainier from a van window, days adrift in the Midwest. And then you’re back home around people you love. Normal is strange. Strange is normal.

SM: When this tour winds down, what’s next?
AAB: A beach somewhere with a nice left.

Originally published by NBC San Diego  on October 13, 2011

Armistead Burwell "Zach" Smith IV

All Systems go for Pinback’s Smith

If the conversation turns to San Diego music, it’s hard not to mention Three Mile Pilot and Pinback. For the past 20 years, the indie-rock groups have been staples of the San Diego scene. The bridge —- and the constant —- in those bands is Armistead Burwell “Zach” Smith IV.

Armistead Burwell "Zach" Smith IV

Armistead Burwell "Zach" Smith IV of Pinback and Three Mile Pilot is converting his solo project, Systems Officer, into a full-fledged band. (Courtesy of Temporary Residence Ltd.)

Smith is still working with both of the long-running groups, but it’s his on-again, off-again solo project, Systems Officer, that he’ll be putting front and center when he kicks off a nine-date West Coast swing (with a newly assembled trio) Sept. 21 at the Casbah.

Completed during pockets of downtime during the past few years, Systems Officer’s 2004 EP and 2009 “Underslept” LP did not get the same exposure as his other two bands. But Smith is determined to spend the time touring and recording to turn it from solo project into something else.

“This has always been something I wanted to do,” he said recently from his home in Little Italy. “I’ve never had the chance to not throw ideas through the meat grinder before. In Pinback and Three Mile Pilot, it’s a lot of ‘Well, let’s try this!’ And I love that. But Systems Officer just lets me do whatever the f— I want.”

With friends Chris Prescott (Pinback drummer) and Kenseth Thibideau (ex-Pinback/Sleeping People) in tow, Smith hopes to pick up where he left off after the last album under his lesser-known moniker.

“Systems Officer hasn’t put out a record since 2009,” he said. “And I didn’t tour on it. Truth is, I just didn’t want to wait anymore. We’re just going to see how the West Coast goes and really start being a functioning band. These are good friends. It should be nice and simple. Solo things are so often a project. I really want this to be more than that.”

Part of Smith’s plans will be to branch out sonically from his previous albums. It’s something that he said hasn’t happened very often.

“Not yet,” Smith said. “I think you can’t help a similar artistry cutting through on all three bands. I think there’s a certain style that can be found in all of them. But I do think it will happen between now and the new records from Pinback and Systems Officer. … I do think they’re similar right now, but they also have their own identities and will get more and more that way.”

There are other prospective changes on the horizon. Long known as a studio guy (he’s recorded many of his albums), Smith hopes to start bringing in outside help.

“It will be nice to go back in the other direction,” he said. “It’s just so much work. It’s hard to focus on both the engineering and the producing. And I was doing show mixes and writing on top of it. I would love to get some engineers in the future. Free up some time. I want to just focus on the writing and not have to worry about things like EQ and the lows.”

Only time will tell what changes ultimately end up happening. But one thing is for certain —- Systems Officer is going to be taken seriously.

“I’m looking at it as just as important as the other bands,” Smith said. “I’m 41 now. I can’t play at the Casbah for the rest of my life. I love that place and I want to keep both Pinback and Three Mile Pilot going. But there are other things I want to do with my life as well. Systems Officer allows me to do things quicker and not take so long in between it all. And it’s definitely something in the forefront of my life. It’s my swan-song band.”

Although he laughed at that last statement, it may not be that far from the truth. Regardless, Smith can rest assured that he’s left an indelible mark on San Diego’s musical history.

“It’s all about the love of music,” he said. “And when I think of San Diego, I think of my favorite bands —- Drive Like Jehu and Rocket From the Crypt. I’m just lucky to have had people interested in what I’ve done over the last 20 or whatever years. It’s been great to be part of the scene. And hopefully I can keep it going.”


The Creation of the Casbah

“Nirvana, the White Stripes, Death Cab for Cutie, Spoon, the Black Keys.”

Casbah owner Tim Mays could go on. As a matter of fact, he wants to but stops himself, knowing that even the fascinating list of bands that once played to half-capacity or less in his small clubs by the airport is far from telling the full story.

Born in Los Angeles, Mays moved to Barstow when he was young, shortly after his parents divorced. He came to San Diego to attend SDSU in 1973 and fell in love with the city. A self-proclaimed “huge music fan,” he continuously attended concerts and soon started making the trek back to L.A. to see the onslaught of punk rock shows there in the ’80s.

After a while, he decided to ditch the commute and began to try to bring those same punk rock shows down to San Diego.

And it worked.

Sort of.

“I started as a punk rock promoter,” Mays said recently. “I put on punk rock shows in the ’80s at venues all over town. But you didn’t own back then; you rented. And I did that for five years or so. And, really, there weren’t a lot of places to book shows at that time. You’d be at a place for awhile and then the neighbors — or the police, or somebody — would get upset, so you’d have to move on and find a new location. I worked my way through venues all over town. Then I got tired of it for awhile, because of all the violence and the skinhead problem: It wasn’t good, and it really took away a lot of great opportunities, so I quit.”

Mays didn’t leave his place in the music business for long, though.

“I ended up opening a bar with a few friends called the Pink Panther,” Mays said. “It was really successful, and it gave us the opportunity to buy another place that had the license for live music, and that was the first Casbah [which was just up the street from where it is now]. And before we knew it, the opportunity came along to triple our size and buy the location we’re in now from a woman who was running it as a lesbian bar. So we bought it and moved here. It gave us a full liquor license and gave us the patio, which wasn’t a big deal back then. But then they passed the no smoking rule, and it became a huge asset. It was during that time we started doing shows at other locations as well. So now, we develop bands at the Casbah, and when they get bigger, we work with them at every level that we can beyond the Casbah.”

As evidenced by the appearance of the club’s ubiquitous crescent moon and star logo on show ads all over town, Mays regularly secures gigs at venues throughout the city for bands that have outgrown the Casbah. And while he enjoys seeing those same bands extend both their fan base and need for performance space, Mays has no interest in anything but keeping the Casbah exactly the size that it is now.

“People ask me that all the time, but I like this size,” Mays said. “There are a lot of nights where there are only 40 or 50 people in the club. On any given month, maybe we’ll sell out 10 or 15 shows. The rest of the time, it’s less than capacity here. And if the place was bigger, it just wouldn’t work. Plus, we have the opportunity to book the bands into bigger clubs when they outgrow the room. And they’re willing to work with us because we develop the bands from the ground floor. I’m perfectly happy with this size. I’m content.”

Part of that satisfaction comes from the “huge music fan” in Mays, who can routinely be found in attendance of many of the shows he’s booked. And while it would be impossible for Mays to name all of his favorites over the years, he doesn’t let that stop him from trying.

“There’s just so many of them: the Jesus Lizard, Jon Spencer, the Breeders — I could go on and on,” Mays said. “I mean, Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps came through when they were in their 70s and put on a fantastic show. RL Burnside was here and it was insane, amazing stuff. And right when they were getting back together, the Cult played here, and it was incredible. We’ve just been lucky to get a lot of good bands or bigger bands that come down to do a warmup gig for a tour or something. The proximity to LA helps in that respect.”

Whatever it is, the Casbah is now into its third decade of existence and shows no signs of slowing down.

“It’s amazing,” Mays said. “We’re on 22 years right now, and during that time, we’ve developed a lot of acts. And people can expect a lot more of the same. We’re always working on a number of things. I’ve got shows on hold through the summer, and there’s always some great stuff coming through the pipeline.”

Source: Creation of the Casbah | NBC San Diego
First published on NBC SoundDiego March 28, 2011

Black Lips (Photo by Zach Wolfe)

10 Best San Diego Live Shows of 2010

Because plenty of factors other than the music inform an opinion on live performance – the mood of the people that accompany you to the show, the guy with the ginormous head that stands directly in front of you, etc. – it’s musical Rashomon compiling one of these lists. That said, here are ten of the best things to hit San Diego stages in the last twelve months.

Black Lips (Photo by Zach Wolfe)

Black Lips – Casbah – January 24

I’m not quite sure whether this Atlanta-based “flower punk” quartet takes their music seriously, but it certainly doesn’t stop them from delivering high-energy, audience-friendly, wildly entertaining performances, and this night was no exception.

St. Vincent and Wildbirds & Peacedrums – Belly Up – Feb. 10

Not only did Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, make good on the promise of her two critically-acclaimed albums, singer Mariam Wallentin of Swedish opener Wildbirds & Peacedrums nearly stole the show with her amazing vocals and frenetic stage presence.

Bonobo – Casbah – April 20

It was unknown if Ninja Tune sound guru Simon Green, aka Bonobo, would be able to make his electronically-based down-tempo tunes translate on stage, but with an exceptional live band and vocalist Andreya Triana in tow, he did – and then some.

The Tallest Man On Earth – The Loft – May 5

He’s actually not that tall and hasn’t yet been able to shake incessant comparisons to Bob Dylan, but armed only with a guitar, Swedish troubadour Kristian Matsson had the entire audience smitten that night.

Billy Joe Shaver – AMSD concerts – June 20

Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of his songs of addiction, love, and loss played from the chancel of an old church, but this one-time songwriter for Waylon Jennings, Elvis Presley, and Kris Kristofferson delivered his outlaw honky-tonk as well as his engaging anecdotes.

Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson – Harrah’s – July 17

Yeah, yeah, I’m sure this might have been better 20, 30, or even 40 years ago, but these two legends didn’t miss a beat as they ran through some of the greatest classics in R&B/Soul history.

Joanna Newsom – SD Women’s Club – July 29

The pixie-voiced chanteuse ripped through her classical compositions with verve, switching back and forth from harp to piano, and charming the audience with her charismatic demeanor. Fleet Foxes front man Robin Pecknold opened the show with an engaging set of new tunes.

Seu Jorge and Almaz – Belly Up – August 11

The Brazilian singer/actor proved that he had far more up his sleeve than The Life Aquatic Bowie covers he’s best known for. Backed by members of the late Chico Science’s band, the mix of samba, rock, and Portuguese rhythms was electrifying.

The Black Keys – SOMA – September 25

I was sure that this Akron, OH, duo had lost some of its charm and power after expanding their sound beyond the lo-fi, garage-blues that launched them and adding additional touring members. I was wrong.

Mavis Staples – Belly Up – November 4

Working with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on her latest album, “You Are Not Alone,” infused this legendary gospel singer with new energy and those who caught this latest tour were the benefactors. She still belts it out with the best of ‘em and showcased why she’s been a respected figure in music for over five decades.

*Honorable mention goes to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at Belly Up on October 3. The New York City punk-blues trio showcased their true professionalism and mastery of genre in their seamlessly orchestrated set.

Originally posted on NBC San Diego SoundDiego Blog on December 31, 2010.