Show Review: San Jose chiptune takes The Colony (Slime Girls, Yulia, Bad Future, Shoujo Kitten, Little Tents @ the Colony 12/6/14)


After some awkward attempts to navigate the otherwise barren streets surrounding the venue, my friend and I got there at 8 thinking we would arrive well into the hefty five-band lineup. As far as we could tell, they hadn’t even done a sound-check yet. Amps and instruments lay strewn against the walls while their owners stood by, talking idly, or were assumedly just MIA, probably drinking at a neighboring bar. Well, at least the drum kit had been assembled.

I came to The Colony expecting to hear some innovative punk fusion offerings, which eventually arrived later, but what I left with was the impression that I had experienced more than simply a night of good music. If I had to identify one overarching theme of the night, it would be friendship—friends who spontaneously decide to hop onstage to sing during their favorite song, friends who rushed to fix the computer when the beat suddenly dropped off, friends who reluctantly agreed to pick up the bass just to give the music some extra punch.

Before the opening set started, I met Francisco from the San Jose band Yulia who told me he joined mostly because the guys really wanted him to play bass. His main drive was very obviously not fame or money or anything self-serving, just to have fun with friends. We also met a couple of Slime Girls’ friends who had driven all the way out from San Jose, their hometown, just to see this show. Davain and Eric, as I gathered were their names, helped book the gig along with many others, namely San Jose State’s upcoming 8-bit/video game music festival: Rockage 4.0.

When I told them I played chiptunes for my radio show on KDVS, they were ecstatic and immediately started running me through a seemingly endless list of dudes I should check out. I was actually glad to know less than half of them (finding enough material in such a niche genre can be stressful at times) but what I began to realize was that something wondrous has taken root in San Jose.

They told me that most of the artists they mentioned were based there, so much so that many chiptuners from the Bay Area, from the Sacramento Valley and even from as far south as LA have been moving up to take part in the growing scene. Since this was all news to me, I insisted that we exchange contact info so I could start promoting more stuff from this newly discovered Promised Land for cute and catchy bleeps and bloops.

But before long, Seattle garage rockers Little Tents took the stage for a not-so-cute, raucous set overflowing with sludgy guitar solos and breakneck beats. The surprise highlight of their set was a cover of the otherwise stripped-down Archers of Loaf song, “White Trash Heroes,” which everyone seemed to be rocking out to regardless of whether they knew it wasn’t original.

In the interim, my friend and I followed the herd of concert-goers next door to the Colony Café for a beer. Between my three dollars and the change she managed to scrape up, we barely afforded our precious pint of PBR. Soon we realized that this place had a concert of its own going on, as evidenced by the straight edge bros filing back and forth, unleashing soul-piercing shrieks upon us every time they swung the seemingly revolving door open. So it came as no big surprise to us as we downed the last dregs of our beer, that we had missed almost all of Bad Future’s set without knowing it. The Seattle punk kids’ last couple of songs managed to coax the crowd into some semblance of engagement, as folks began to loosen up, sway and head-bop, but nothing could have prepared us for the contagious friend power of Yulia. Although I didn’t know any of their music, I felt like I could see myself singing along with the catchy choruses like their adoring friends in the front of the crowd. There was this pervading sense that everyone was a friend for the night, if not just for the duration of Yulia’s set—even though there could only have been twenty people in the audience, there were at least a couple of dance circles breaking out in the crowd, people’s arms latched around people’s arms like they had known each other for years.

After a quick turnaround, the chiptune rockers took the stage with the pixelated intro song from their breakout Vacation Wasteland EP, which seemed to put a smile on everyone’s face instantaneously as our minds became awash with vibrant imagery from our childhood video game adventures. They played another song from that album, “Neo-Tokyo Sunset,” then tried out some older material from their demo days—only Davain and Eric seemed to know these ones, as their fervent dancing implied. The frontman Petey bashfully apologized for the sheer volume of their set, deeming it “the loudest Slime Girls set ever,” which I don’t think was any exaggeration—the lead-in to the next song utilized an 8-bit splash sound that nearly popped out my right eardrum. They also announced the approaching release of their new EP, Heart on Wave,to an ecstatic uproar from the front row before playing one of my new personal favorites: “Video Girl.”

Saving the best for last, er second to last, they played their biggest hit, “Vacation Wasteland,” which had the room entranced, compelling everyone to sway in tandem with the reggae-tinged tune, like so many beery sailors shambling in step to the rhythm of the sea. For the final song, another oldie, Slime Girls had Davain and Eric and their other diehard fans join the stage to sing before handing the reins over to the sloppy, drunken, but capable hands of Shojou Kitten.

The band of Sacramentans presents themselves as a lovably quirky crew: Cutey Honey, the mousey lead singer, takes charge with her larger-than-life vocals in spite of her small stature, Bon Bon, the portly bearded drummer, plays high-octane fills to rival Travis Barker’s but makes it all look like the easiest thing in the world, Soda Pop, the effeminately dressed lead guitarist, solos with glam rock grace, Cream Puff, the tomboyish bassist, grooves with such momentum that even the most smug of punk rock dudes is sure to break a sweat just watching her, and Angel Cake, the eminently charismatic rhythm guitarist, kept everyone out on a limb with his wild stage antics and dry-humored banter.

Midway through the show, he tried to start a clap and was met with little success so he literally demonstrated “clapping technique” for the crowd to follow before heckling the “hoodies” on the right side of the cloud, who remained immovable in their indifference or “coolness,” as he put it sarcastically.

I couldn’t tell you a single name of a Shojou Kitten song from that night, since I didn’t know them before and also since the already bad PA balance had gotten progressively worse, but there was one that featured every band member in individual solos. Their encouragement to each other was really fun to watch, as they still seem to show genuine appreciation for their friends’ skills, even though they’ve played together for years. With these guys, it was obvious that there was no hidden pride or envy fueling the whole dynamic, just the desire to jam and have a good time together.

When Cutey Honey announced that Bon Bon would be playing his final string of shows in the spring (the working title is “Bon Bon Voyage Tour”), I couldn’t help but think what a loss that must be for them. Then I realized that was ridiculous, in the grand scheme of rock music. I thought about this when Chris Walla recently decided to leave Death Cab for Cutie, content and without animosity: just like with relationships, the impression you get from being in a band is the one you leave with.

Leaving the show after Shojou Kitten’s set, I thought of how they might look back on the night once Bon Bon left. As with the other bands and the other musically-inclined people in the Colony that night, I think they’d remember the fun they had being with each other and the way their music echoed that. After enough time, I think everything else would become like feedback—a tone without melody.

by Thom Stone