Generally, I either return from a show disheartened by a lackluster performance, or I am so tired from dancing all night long that I barely make it to the couch to pass out. In the rarest of instances, I’ll come home with as much energy as I left with. Once in a blue moon such a phenomenon will occur, just as it did after my most recent trip to Slim’s.
My knowledge of the Phenomenauts, a psychobilly band out of Oakland, was limited. I knew that they claimed to be from the future and always dressed up in outrageous costumes at their live shows. I must admit that at first I was skeptical of these futuristic fiends. I’m not a fan of concerts filled with more acting than actual music, and these guys had the potential to fit that mold perfectly.
On Saturday, Jan. 24, I hesitantly ventured out of the freezing cold into the venue and was horrified by what I saw. It seemed the Phenomenauts had their own army of followers comprised of their dearest fans wearing everything from flight jackets that matched the band’s to homemade helmets that looked as if they were straight out of a retro sci-fi movie. My worst fears were realized, and I concluded that this show would be nothing more than the quirky band dancing on stage and engaging in long-winded conversation with the crowd.
Smoke from fog machines filled the stage while lasers and strobe lights danced around frantically. It was when the lights came on and the band began their first song that I realized my preconceived notions were utterly and completely wrong. This band was amazing.
The musical skills were incredible, their stage presence rocked and I’ve never seen such an enthusiastic crowd in my life. I was happily shocked by everything I saw and heard. Not only was I dancing along to every song, I felt a serious urge to purchase some sort of memorabilia so I too could be part of the Phenomenaut craze.
Even wilder than the outfits, which changed sometime during the show (I only noticed when their matching red creepers were suddenly white), was what looked like a toilet paper ray gun brought out mid-set. The machine dispensed toilet paper onto a screaming crowd manned by the band keyboardist, Professor Greg Arius.
Seattle native Jason Webley opened the show. Standing alone on the stage, holding only an accordion, he began his set for a very apprehensive crowd. I had to block all thoughts out of my head and just watch and listen in order to process what he was doing.
After the confusion wore off I better understood my feelings, and I realized that this guy was pure genius. He sang with passion and played with exuberance. The folk style of his songs didn’t match his lyrics, but only made his performance more weird and wonderful. His ability to capture the crowd astonished me. Never have I seen every single person participate with a performer before, but Webley had them all following along. His set didn’t necessarily match the genre of the headliners, but his creativity and departure from the norm made him a perfect opening act.
I’ll be sure to keep both Webley and the Phenomenauts on my radar in order to catch them the next time they decide to swing through town. Both are bands I’d pay to see again without a second thought and, since both hang their hat relatively close to San Francisco, I’m sure we’ll be seeing them both soon enough. So, if you ever find your life lacking weird and wacky, make sure to look these guys up – I promise you’ll get your fill of both.