Words & Photos by Scott Murry
San Francisco has a rich history of counter culture. As the city where hippies and punk rockers have flourished for decades, you can still walk down steep city sidewalks and stumble into human doo-doo; hopefully the vulturous tech industry can never change that. Perhaps it’s this laissez-faire attitude that has spawned all of the foundational, fundamental bands in the bay area. So when you’re in town, don’t slump around Fisherman’s Wharf like a rube, see a local band. Just this rube’s luck, toyGuitar were playing at the DNA Lounge with fellow Bay area swaggerers The Atom Age, and New York’s CJ Ramone during my visit last Wednesday.
On a small platform like that of the “Above DNA” space a six-piece band struggles to fit, but sardines manage to hold into cans, circus clowns clamor into tiny cars, and The Atom Age shake, rattle, and roll an approximately 200 sq ft stage. With their tormented sax roaring like a furnace and their transistor organ player leaning into his transistor organ at full tilt, their sound howls like the Cramps’ “Haulass Hyena.” It’s a corrupt 1950s vibe that our grandmothers would have loved to let loose with. Pompadours, pencil-thin moustaches, and bowties complete the time-warp.
As toyGuitar took the stage the Lounge was its fullest of the night, and with good reason as Jack Dalrymple seems to have been in at least 15% of the Bay area’s bands. San Fran is his turf and he’s been marking the blocks with over two decades of riffs. The charismatic lead took a peculiar joy in making his band mates uncomfortable in the silent moments between songs. Spouting fictitious dialog of the crowd going to the wrong show with little response from the band, he said “Alright. Here we go … this needs to be way more unprofessional.” Mischievous smirks jumped between the band as the ripped into “Move Like A Ghost,” the eponymous track from their new EP. Punk undertones are swept up in garage melodies that make people want to shimmy rather than slam dance. The savage, sonic jams kept everyone bouncing to the beat.
CJ Ramone closed out the night with a set list leaning heavy on his heritage. Having stepped in for Dee Dee Ramone in the nineties on bass for the Ramones, he can likely play every track in his sleep. In doing so, it felt like a cover band to a degree. His voice and backup don’t hit the same harmonies as the original crew, but that didn’t stop fans from thrusting their fists into the air with every chorus. A dad that grew up on “Blitzkrieg Bop” pressed against the stagefront arm-in-arm with his teenage son to pass on the torch. The blatant bliss of the band was apparent as they continued past their setlist with crowd requests. “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” made a rare appearance (it was never in live rotation due to inter-band relationships before), CJ pointed out, “As the last one standing, I get to play what I want.”