The Fetchin Bones show Friday at Big John's in Anaheim was by (and for) people who've mastered the power of positive winking .
From the moment Fetchin Bones lit into the amphetamine-hoedown "Bed of Seems" until they closed out with a sly, fairly faithful version of the Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)," the co-ed quintet was loose and spirited--and wasn't about to take anything too seriously. Ditto the audience.
The result was the North Carolina band's wacky, wonderful, grin-inspiring helluva hullabaloo, spearheaded by lead singer Hope Nicholls.
A nutty vision in black-and-white sartorial splendor (love those zebra tights!) Nicholls was an animated, constantly moving sock-hop wonder, covering as much ground vertically as horizontally.
She tossed off occasional wry, deadpan comments (mentioning that the video of "Binoculars" was about to debut on MTV, and playing off one of the song's lyrics, she quipped, "We're everywhere, yet--we're nowhere "). She also banged on a variety of percussion instruments and periodically blew a police whistle.
This busy schedule notwithstanding, she also managed to perform all the lead vocals. And what an odd, yet oddly effective voice she has: a wild, intense, slightly out-of-control howl, perfectly suited to the Bones' rattling patchwork of garage rock, funk, throbbing pop, R&B, power folk and--yeah--the kitchen sink is probably in there somewhere.
Indeed, one of the bonuses of Friday's show was the way it addressed, and dismissed, concerns that the group's rough, quirky edges had been filed smooth in the making of its new album, "Galaxy 500." For example, on vinyl, the metal-funk romp "Stray" is too heavy on the metal, too light on the group's off-kilter sensibility ( musically , that is; lyrically, at least on one level, it's a swell tale , or tail, about a stray mutt--a true shaggy dog story).
But performing the song live, these poster children for thrift shop apparel played up both the funk and the group's colorful personality and downplayed the hard rawk--though new guitarist Errol Stewart indulged in a bit of fiery fret-grinding.
Later, the group explored similar sonic territory with its first encore, "Wine," a nifty, vintage (sorry) Bones tune with a swinging rhythm scooting underneath a weird, witty narrative that's initially about buying jug wine at a convenience store, then wanders further and further into left field. The rendition of "Wine," like Fetchin Bones' set overall, was funky--and funny--but chic.
Preceding Fetchin Bones, Downy Mildew spent the better part of an hour fashioning its ethereal, often enchanting soundscapes. The quartet is sometimes a bit too precious and tends to mine the same musical vein a bit too heavily, leaving its approach on the monochromatic side.
But these drawbacks should work themselves out, since the band is still young and loaded with potential (singer Charlie Baldonado noted that it was "three years ago (Thursday) that we played our first public show").
Also promising is Orange County quartet Clockwork, which opened the show with a nice set of moody, propulsive rock that enveloped some thoughtful, well-penned lyrics.