A Tribute to Sky Saxon – at The Echoplex – Los Angeles / Silverlake, CA
July 24, 2009
Sometimes you have no clue when you get a ticket to a show what will be instore that evening. I had read on the internet that Billy Corgan, the face and only original member still in The Smashing Pumpkins, would be performing a tribute show for Sky Saxon.
I won’t lie, I had never heard of Sky Saxon and had to google him. My search found that he was a member of The Seeds and was heavily influential in the psychedelic music scene. The ticket said it was an all-star tribute and that claim would not be a lie. Even though I knew nothing of what/whom would be performing I was thrilled at the opportunity to see a variety of musical groups in one evening.
The tiny Echoplex, which actually opened its doors on time (if you ever go to the venue you know that most of the time they open the doors around an hour late), had a huge line of people dressed in full hippy garb. There were flowers in the hair, bandannas, guys wearing kimono type dresses, peace sign necklaces, and the average age being post 50.
When getting into the venue there was incense burning and a ton of cut out flowers and pictures of Sky all over the venue. There was also a huge memorial for people to sign and leave their best wishes to him as well. I neglected to sign when I came in still not really knowing much about him or what his influences were on the music world.
They handed out programs which would explain who would be coming onstage for the tributes that night. This was a huge plus for me as it allowed me to ask people who specific groups were and what they sounded like.
The show started off with an acoustic set of a few songs by Djin Aquarian of the defunct 60’s group Ya Ho Wa 13.
Accompanied by a female violinist Aquarian played a few songs and then went into some details about the show. He explained that this show was done 30 days after Saxon’s death because it was the optimal time for a spirit to be passing on. He continued to explain more about this in flower power fashion and then explained we all would be doing a star breathing exercise to center our mantra for the evening.
Even though I was confused, and a bit embarrassed, I decided to participate. If you are curious about the whole process I can explain it to you. It starts with your legs spread and an extension of your arms straight out. One of your hands should be turned up and the other turned down. This, we were told, was of the utmost importance. You then do around 120 fast inhales and exhales before taking a deep breath and holding it in. After around 20 or so seconds you let out your breath and you have centered your energy.
My mantra was now centered and ready for the evening.
This set was followed up by a group doing a one time performance going by the name Spirits in the Sky. This super group consisted of Billy Corgan and Mike Byrne of The Smashing Pumpkins (Byrne is the new drummer who is 19), Mark Tulin from the Electric Prunes, Mark S. Weitz of Strawberry Alarm Clock, and Kerry Brown who is an ex member of Cathrine.
I was stoked to see this group, as Corgan was the reason I was there. There were extended solos and the group played 3 different songs with some being Seeds covers. Unfortunately I do not know what the songs were called but judging on the sound I can tell the heavy influence The Seeds must have had on the older “Gish” era Pumpkins songs.
After the 3 song set Billy asked if the audience would like to hear a Pumpkins song and the younger hipsters in the crowd went berserk with that the fact of hearing a song by The Pumpkins. I was pretty excited myself as well.
“Well this is going to be a new song. Fans of the Pumpkins probably won’t like it”.
I actually quite enjoyed the song that was played. It had lyrics that talked about how he wished he was a fish, and hunters guns following deers and finally going into a part with tigers going after meat. The one line I really remember was “Oh tell me baby, what you want. Oh tell me baby, what you need.”
The song had some crazy guitar solos which would be a theme for the rest of the night.
The band left stage and the group Strawberry Alarm Clark treated the audience to some select songs. There were most of the original members of the band performing (including Mark S. Weitz, George Bunnel, Gene Gunnels and Randy Seol) as well as an extra guitarist and a flautist.
I did recognize a song they played which was one of their own songs, "Incense and Peppermints". I think this song is on every one of those Time Life album collections from the 60’s. Complete with synth and a driving cowbell, complete with guitar solo and a sound that is so distinct it was hard not to get lost in it.
The entire audience joined in on the closing la-la-la’s as the fresh smell of “the sacred herb”, as the band called it, filled the venue.
The show just continued to get better as the world famous DJ Rodney Bingenheimer introduced The Electric Prunes. He even gave an intro explaining that this band is what revolutionized the wa-wa pedal. Just looking at the pedal board of the guitarist you could see that some interesting sounds were to ensue.
The group did not disappoint, as many of their songs were loud and grainy with a very garage band feel. The guitar work was very complex with a ton of effects and shifting swirls of noise that pushed the stage amps to their max. I also want to note how cool the guitarist’s guitar was. With a polka dotted pic guard, multi colored knobs, and multi colored tuning knobs it was a total one of a kind.
The singer also had two different purple tambourines that added into the whole purple thing the band was pulling off. Maybe the purple is something they always did, maybe its cause prunes are purple, either way it made them stick out in my mind.
Corgan also came out and stayed in the shadows to add some solos to one of the songs. I will say that the intense solos and noise coming from guitarist Steve Kara overshadowed his playing but Billy was just there as a guest, not to overshadow.
The next group, an the only weak point in the night, was The Simon Stokes Band. They were introduced by a member of Sky’s family as “an acidy country group” and the intro got one thing right, it was a country group.
The set was only 3 songs and one of them was a solo acoustic song by Simon. Nothing really stuck out and I do not have much to comment about them other than the singers striking resemblance to Willie Nelson.
Oh well, not every group can be a standout act when so many were performing.
The next act onto the stage was a female bass player by the name of Sofizel. She is French and had a heavy accent while speaking to the audience. Her sound reminded me a ton of the Breeders and she played a re-worked version of “The Tyger” (which is a William Blake tune).
She even shared the story of how her and Sky met that she read off of a piece of paper. You could hear the sorrow in her voice as she struggled through it. It was very touching and heartfelt and many in the audience started to cry when hearing her words. Knowing that she was in a collaboration with Saxon called The People’s Republic Army must have made this so much harder for her because of actively working with him before his death.
The night continued with a one-song performance by Mike Randle of Baby Lemonade. He walked on stage and explained that he had to learn how to play the harmonica to do this tribute song was a favorite song of Saxon, a song by Arthur Lee, which he did not say the title to.
I was actually kind of disappointed that he only got one song. The duel harmonica with guitar really gave a different sound to the evening. Something more stripped down and very touching. You could almost see a tear in his eye as he walked off the stage after the tribute.
Another highlight and huge surprise for me was a performance by Nels Cline. Maybe you haven’t heard his name before but he plays guitar in a little band by the name of Wilco. To me, Cline is the reason some of their songs get so experimental with the guitar and I was thrilled at the chance to see him do a song.
It took a while for him to set up his massive pedal board, which had well over 20 pedals, all hooked up and ready to go. He started off his song switching from pedal to pedal while throwing the wa-wa in for good measure.
Something he did, which I really can’t explain was use this circular thing that he put in his mouth to distort his voice and vibrate the strings at the same time. I have pictures so if anyone knows what this thing is called please tell me. Either way the song was in the line of the ending of the Wilco song “Handshake Drugs” where the guitar work starts to sound like bells and noises, but coupled with the robotic voice that came from the thing he put in his mouth.
This was a huge thing for me to see and many of the older audience members were asking around who that guy was. It was a complex and amazing song.
There would be one more special performance before the headliners of the evening would be taking the stage. This group consisted of Corgan on a bass guitar, Aquarian on an electric guitar and Kerry Brown on drums.
I am not sure what the song is that they played but it was interesting to see Billy on bass. I know in studio he always tends to play all the instruments but I have never had the opportunity to see him on the four string. Let me just say, like the guitar, Billy can shred on the bass as well.
Aquarian was bit intimidated by Corgan and showed his own skills with the electric. The two went back and forth with extensive solos on the stage and Billy even laughed at certain points. Every time it seemed like the song was coming to an end, Billy would restart up with the reoccurring bass line from the song and Aquarian’s guitar would build back in. The song seemed to just be a free form song that evolved and took on a life of its own.
Finally, the show ended with a massive performance by The Seeds. Sure only two original members were there, Daryl Hooper and Jan Savage, but a ton of others would be joining the band. Even while setting up you could slowly check out the side of the stage and see all the artists from the evening lining up to join on stage to fill in the rest of the band.
With Saxon having passed away who would be filling in on vocals?
Well it all started off with an energetic few songs by Leighton Koizumi of the band The Morlocks. He lit up a hand rolled cigarette, which he then passed around to all the members on stage, and said, “I just got back from India and it smells like Hash in here”.
With this quote the band broke into song and Leighton ran and jumped all over the stage. He even pointed the mic out into the audience so that everyone could sing along with the songs that Saxon had written.
It wasn’t long until Christa Collins, of The Woolly Bandits, would join the stage and take over the vocals. Rik Collins of The Woolly Bandits had already been on stage filling in on bass and you could tell he was stoked to have his front woman up on stage belting out some classic Seeds tunes.
I almost don’t feel the female vocals for the songs really fit, but the added go-go dancer on stage made me loose focus on what Christa was doing anyways. But hey, at least she knew the lyrics to the song unlike the next vocalist to join the group. Billy Corgan took over on vocals for the closing number “Pushin Too Hard”, another recognizable song for me.
Well this wasn’t the last song, as I heard that there were a few encores after the set but by then it was nearly 2am, and seeing that I had lined up around 7pm I was done for the evening.
I will say, this benefit really showed how much influence that Sky Saxon has had on all genres of music and how well respected he is/was in the musical community. I was also shocked at how many songs I did recognize from artist that I hadn’t thought I had ever heard of. All in all for those that didn’t spend the $15 for a ticket (or $10 if you dressed up) really missed out on a truly memorable and touching evening of music and remembrance at The Echoplex.
Big Wheel Music Scene Reporter
More photos of the show can be seen HERE
Go HERE to see all the latest show reviews