Show reviews (San Diego edition): The Mattson 2, Vivian Girls, Grass Widow, The Babies, The Zeros, The Muffs

This roundup of shows begins in San Diego, where I spent a long weekend for Comic-Con. Sorry, no partying with Dethklok or Andrew WK, but there happened to be a couple of rad shows at one my favorite venues of all time: The Casbah. Of course, there was Vivian Girls (above) but first came The Mattson 2 (below). A perfect way to cap off Comic-Con’s preview night.

This would be the first time for me to see the twin brothers play without Ray Barbee and I looked forward to seeing them as a straight-up duo. So of course they started out by jamming with local legends (and unknown just about everywhere else) Kut U Up. The latter band is a San Diego mainstay that has the slacker indie vibe of Pavement obscuring the post-punk chops of Fugazi. As for their headlining set, Jared and Jonathan Mattson fully delivered their trademark prog-surf-jazz sound that’s championed by Thomas Campbell’s Galaxia records. They pushed and riffed off each other during a radical and seemingly improvised set list anchored by ripping covers of Gang of Four (“Damaged Goods”) and The Smiths (“Ask”). Yes, more jamming with the Kut U Up guys, as well. The Mattsons are a real local treasure, and solid gateway to jazz.

Friday the 13th at The Casbah meant Misfits and Ramones songs between bands, and how cool was it to see the musicians singing along and bobbing their heads the songs as they set up? We arrived just in time to see The Babies, in which Vivian Girls’ Cassie Ramone backs up Woods’ bassist Kevin Morby. Their brand of lo-fi rock (Modern Lovers, maybe) is very cool and less straightforward than it seems. It’s really something special when the couple mixes it up on vocals.

Ramone had a chance to rest up for her headlining set with the Vivian Girls as San Francisco’s Grass Widow channeled the early vibe of Olympia’s K records via their textured pop and warm harmonies. To me, it almost seemed as if the drummer was leading the songs as the guitar and bass provided the layers of warm sound. Super absorbing and highly enjoyable.

Yes, Vivian Girls were great. I already loved the trio’s albums, but in concert they are way less droning and more rocking. They explode with a ton of energy with and heavy freakouts. But just like that, they can break into a rad ballad like “Before I Start To Cry”  (which I put on ye olde gr/eats play list). So good. After finally seeing them live, I need to revisit to the records and seek out the 7″ singles by this band that is connected to so many other groups I like. Besides The Babies, there’s Dum Dum Girls, Frankie Rose and The Outs…

No, The Troubadour isn’t in San Diego but The Zeros are from Chula Vista. I was stoked to see the first-generation SoCal punk band that played with the Weirdos and X way back when on a bill with The Muffs last Friday night. Even though bassist Ronnie Barnett claims they’ve been playing the same show for two decades now, The Muffs are always worth seeing because their music is as timeless as it is tight. Something about mixing the girl group tone with the purest of punk chops, perhaps. And having the mighty Roy McDonald behind the kit can’t hurt. Is their new record ever going to come out? They’ve alluded to it and dipped into it the last two or three times I’ve seen them.

The Zeros were as amazing as I hoped they’d be, playing their legendary Bomp! singles (with “Wild Weekend” and “Don’t Push Me Around”) as well as choice covers (“Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White,” “Chatterbox”). Straight-up garage rock ‘n’ roll that has informed everyone from The Plimsouls to Hanoi Rocks. Of course, The Muffs covered The Zeros, too, so it was extra cool when Kim Shattuck helped out with “Beat Your Heart Out.” Holy shit, what a dose of pre-punk radness. Go see them.

Lots of cool stuff coming up this week and next week: Black Breath, Fishbone, Soul Asylum… See you there.