Listings are in the opposite order of appearance: headliner is listed at the top, next is the support band(s), and the last band listed is the opener.
Friday June 10
8:30PM doors -- music at 9:00PM
••• 21 AND OVER
$15 in advance / $20 at the door
featuring Kate Vargas and Eric McFadden
and featuring Angelo Moore of Fishbone and Dr. Madd Vibe & The Missin' Links
& Robin Coomer and Larry Boothroyd (Victims Family, Jello Biafra)
misterioso desert carnivalesque rock
dark cabaret steampunk
featuring Kate Vargas and Eric McFadden
Kate Vargas - vocals, guitar, flute
Eric McFadden - guitar, vocals
Angeline Saris - bass
Paulo Baldi - drums
-from New York, NY/San Francisco, CA
-Out of the gates, Sgt. Splendor’s new pandemic-penned debut hits with a claustrophobic urgency. “We’re in the belly of the beast right now,” Kate Vargas sings on lead track “Whoopee Chateau,” her voice wafting like fumes from the barrel of a smoking gun. Expertly dodging one unsettling revelation after another, her phrasing quickly turns staccato, each word jolting like the bee sting she suggests you “put a penny on” during the chorus.
“This record draws heavily from what we experienced during lockdown,” Vargas says. “It’s an abstract expression of that strange time.”
“Yeah, you can definitely hear it in ‘Whoopee Chateau,’” adds Vargas’ bandmate and partner, Eric McFadden, who mesmerizes on the track, deftly threading chromatic Latin-jazz guitar breaks through a deep, yet blessedly loose funk strut. “The whole thing has this Jim Morrison sentiment—like, I’m gonna get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames.’”
An intentionally bipolar affair, Occasions for Self-Congratulations teeters from carefully constructed escapism to head-on collisions with madness. There’s the weary, post-apocalyptic blues of “Don’t Make Me Explain,” its spring-loaded tremolo guitar exploding like a barrel of overwound watches; the sinister riff rock of “Michael Myers,” stabbing forward in a Halloween-esque hellscape that oozes menace; and dystopian Americana stomp “You’re All Dead to Me,” the serpentine, sibilant hiss of its vocals a forked tongue tickling your ear.
Before joining forces, the duo behind Sgt. Splendor were already formidable solo artists, Vargas chalking up acclaim at outlets like NPR, HuffPost and Vice (including praise from the “Dean of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau); and McFadden amassing an impressive resume including stints on guitar with George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars, Fishbone’s Angelo Moore, and Eric Burdon & The Animals, plus a slew of solo albums, and session work with everyone from Jackson Browne to The Clash’s Joe Strummer.
Sgt. Splendor made excellent use of its rolodex on Occasions, calling in the dream rhythm section of drummer Paulo Baldi (CAKE, The Claypool Lennon Delirium) and Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools. “Sometimes things work out in life just like you want them to,” McFadden says. “It was an insane stroke of luck that Paulo and Dave were both available for the studio time we’d booked. They’re old friends of mine—Paulo and I have played together for years, and I was in the band Stockholm Syndrome with Dave. We didn't even need to rehearse—we just went in and had fun with the songs. Total spontaneity.”
The sessions took place at Lucky Recording in Brisbane, Calif., with Mikel Ross and former Butch Vig protégé Travis Kasperbauer, who engineered and also co-produced with McFadden and Vargas. Sgt. Splendor’s intoxicating chemistry on the new album has its roots not just in enduring friendships, but also in the love and connection of its creative partners, Vargas and McFadden. After circling each other’s orbits for a time, they finally met at a songwriting retreat hosted by Pat McDonald (of Timbuk 3 / “Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades” fame) and have been together for three years now.
“Pat owns this hotel in Sturgeon Bay, Wisc.,” Vargas says. “Several times a year, he invites 40 songwriters to stay for a week. Each night, we’d spin the bottle for our songwriting partners, then write and record a song in 24 hours. In 2018, Eric and I matched and wrote ‘Freakification’ together, which is on the new Sgt. Splendor record.”
Before McFadden had even met Vargas, he recalls being both floored and smitten seeing her perform. “I was at this festival and she was on stage,” he says. “I was just in awe, amazement and disbelief. Kate’s talent—I’m hearing the song, the lyrics, her otherworldly voice, and then I'm looking at this utter beauty. It was almost too much to process. She had an immediate impact on me.”
Turns out the admiration was mutual. “I’ve said before that Eric is the best living guitar player, and I really feel that,” Vargas says. “He’s a true virtuoso. Obviously, that got my attention. But once we got to know each other, we realized we had all these weird things in common—we both grew up in Albuquerque, our birthdays are two days apart, our moms have the same birthday and the same middle name. Clearly something was going on.”
For touring musicians, dating is different than when you work a 9 to 5. So instead of asking her out, McFadden invited Vargas to play some shows with him. “It was my way of being able to spend more time with her,” he says. “We started doing little tours together, playing separately at first, and then as a unit.”
After six months, though, this budding musical collaboration hit a major obstacle: Covid-19. Unable to tour, Vargas and McFadden holed up and started writing songs together. They also began performing a successful weekly livestream called Live from the Red Couch. Out of these performances, Sgt. Splendor was born. “The livestream was an anchor in our lives,” McFadden says. “A way to mark time when time was so elusive. And it became a community. Later, when we were on tour, people would come up to us everywhere—Hawaii, San Francisco, Mexico—and they’d be like, ‘Hey, we saw you on the Red Couch.’ It still happens at every show.”
For Vargas and McFadden, the pandemic was a time of extremes. “I was going back and forth from ‘I'm grateful for everything in my life’ to ‘The world is burning to the ground,’” Vargas says. “There was a lot of reflection—a lot of gratitude, but also a lot of apocalyptic feelings.”
“We honestly went through a lot of heavy, life-changing growth,” McFadden adds. “Some of it painful. I examined things about myself I’d been avoiding for a lifetime. If not for the pandemic, I might not have ever had the opportunity to make so much progress. At the same time, our careers came to a halt, people were dying—it was a complicated time, and that comes through on the new record.”
Though Sgt. Splendor were abroad in the U.K. and Europe for much of 2020, they were keenly aware of the strife back home in the States. In addition to the global public-health crisis, police brutality and civil unrest were front and center, along with a heated election cycle followed by a violent insurrection. Feelings—of frustration, horror, powerlessness and paralysis—emerge in subtle yet hair-raising ways on Occasions for Self-Congratulations. Single “Buck Dharma,” named after the lead singer of Blue Oyster Cult, is an arresting vignette about estranged lovers attempting to make amends during a motel rendezvous. But one never makes it, dying in a fiery crash as their partner looks on in helpless shock and anguish from the window of the motel, the entire moment jarringly soundtracked by Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burnin’ For You.”
The syncopated chord changes of “Buck Dharma” shuffle bleak and cinematic, unfolding an allegorical tragedy as Vargas’ sly, sardonic and subtly aching voice extracts emotion from the song’s warped imagery like marrow from a bone. As the car bursts into flames, McFadden’s surfy, melodic guitar lines dream darkly, gazing toward the distant horizon in a world that—in an instant—has changed forever.
“Everything we write is us,” McFadden says. “No matter what scene we're creating, or what we seem to be pulling from the ether, it's all an expression of what we're going through in our lives.”
“When you feel powerless watching all these terrible things happen, as we so often did the last few years,” Vargas says, “and then you combine that with an inability to move forward or plan any type of future, it makes things even stranger. It’s hard to live with so much uncertainty.”
Fortunately, the road ahead for Sgt. Splendor seems a bit less enigmatic these days. With the new record hitting this summer, a unique opportunity has emerged, and the band has planned an album-release tour around it. This June through October, Sgt. Splendor is joining the circus. “We’re going through California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and more,” Vargas says. “It's a cool old-timey operation out of Mendocino, Calif., called the Flynn Creek Circus. No animals, nothing weird like that, but plenty of knife-throwing, sword-swallowing and aerial acrobatics. And they're going to build the show’s whole story around our songs!”
McFadden, who’s had a lifelong fascination with the circus, shares Vargas’ giddiness over the opportunity. “Flynn Creek is a circus-cabaret thing,” he says, “which makes a lot of sense for us, musically. Tom Waits’ music has always been a point of connection for me & Kate. While our musical approaches differ, they’re also kindred and share a lot of common elements. Our Southwestern upbringing comes through—that sort of misterioso desert thing—but also a carnivalesque Waits-ian vibe. Our styles have always been complementary, and Occasions represents a great meeting of the two.”
Vargas concurs: “Sgt. Splendor really feels like a combination of both of us—equally.”
-from San Francisco, CA
-Dizzy Twin explores a netherworld of weird, witchy vibes. To date, they’ve put out two albums: Kaleidoscope (2016) and Empire (2018), the latter of which was mastered at Abbey Road Studios. Musically beautiful and lyrically powerful, Dizzy Twin is in a genre all it’s own- an adventurous and dynamic feminist statement reaching into both the future and the past.
Dizzy Twin began in SF as a super-secret studio project created by UK transplant Paul Simmans and co-founder of San Francisco’s feminist punk icons Frightwig, Mia d’Bruzzi. It is now a full-blown live act featuring Roger Rocha (4 Non Blondes, The Goldenhearts) on guitar, Tim Perdue (Velvetta, Enrique) on bass, and Michael Tornatore on drums, along with Paul on piano and guitar and Mia on vocals.
“Gorgeous tracks!”- Unwoman (Erica Mulkey)