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March 30, 2012

My First Night at the Che Cafe

The Ché Café seems to be securely afloat again and thank tiny baby Jesus for that. It’s one of the most intimate venues in San Diego. The audience stood mere inches from Andrew Jackson Jihad’s lead singer Sean Bonnette and his red rimmed glasses as he tuned his acoustic guitar in preparation for the Phoenix based band’s performance last Sunday. And after only three words into their song “Brave as a Noun” that proximity led to the crowd surging forward, smashing the mic stand directly into his bearded face.

Yes, it was that kind of night.

The show started off with a distinctly creepy vibe as I walked into the dimly lit, already packed venue. Monologues from horror movies like Misery and Psycho were being played through huge PA speakers by the Delawarean opening band Roar. The tunes kept the audiences’ arms tightly folded with their carnival-esque synth organ riffs, alt-rock screams, and disjointed song structures. But the second opener, Laura Stevenson and The Cans, from Brooklyn, promptly won the crowd’s heart.

Rocking a pixie cut and backed by her band’s pop-imbued roots-rock, Stevenson let loose her sweet and warm set of pipes. Combined with simple lyrics about summertime, sadness and cats, the songs were bolstered by the slow beautiful melodies that cascaded from Alex Billig’s accordion. I promptly fell in love with her, and how could you not? Stevenson remarked, “You know? Without sounding like too much of an asshole, I really think tonight is going to be magical.” Once Andrew Jackson Jihad took the stage, it became a tough sentiment to dispute.

While mostly playing in the key of C, and rattling off verses about simultaneously losing and hanging on to faith in humanity, the three main members of Andrew Jackson Jihad turned their simple folk-punk into a spectacle.

“Please only jump up and down, not side to side,” Bonnette asked the crowd shortly after the first song, presumably to keep his front teeth intact. In response a young rapscallion asked for a boost up into the crowd for what I thought would be just a healthy dose of crowd surfing. He instead clambered up onto the low hanging rafters and soon they were full of dangling 20-somethings. At one point one of them flipped upside down and Spiderman kissed a complete stranger to the thunderous cheers from the crowd.

I spent most of the night drenched in sweat, half mine and half mystery, slam dancing in the mosh pit, for the wristband did say “Pit Pass,” all while yelling myself hoarse to jaunty folk tunes as the band pressed on with their sonic barrage.

The first half of the set played out like a drunken sing-along as bassist Ben Gallaty jovially plucked his stand up bass to crowd favorites like “People” and “Rejoice.” The band then brought out another guitarist and drummer, strapped on some electric guitars and whipped the crowd into a thrashing frenzy with more straightforward punk songs like “Heartilation” and “Distance.”

After the final thundering crash of “Big Bird,” the final song of the night, the crowd picked their way across the slippery linoleum floor and stepped out into the cold rain as the steam poured off their bodies. There are precious few moments in life when you can wrap your arms around a complete stranger, who may or may not have just elbowed you in the face while moshing, and be totally okay with it. In my humble opinion, it was a well-earned black eye and an excellent introduction to the Ché Café.

Originally posted on San Diego CityBeat's blog: Check 1, Check 2

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