Return of the Bay Area Psychedelic Rock Scene
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Return of the Bay Area Psychedelic Rock Scene

The Milk Bar, San Francisco, April 15, 2022

As the sun set through the clouds over Haight street, the faint sound of a Turkish drum being played can be heard in the distance amongst all the tourists, hippies, and street bohemians of the neighborhood. The Milk Bar is hosting a modern psychedelic show with  bands on the bill this evening, and things were shaping up to be a nice return to form for the Bay Area psych rock scene. This was the first event of Tender Cartel Production, and it’s nice to see a new promoter on the scene with a great sense of which bands would appear on the bill together. It was the perfect mix with a “Non-rock band”, a classic SF garage country band, an up and coming band from LA, and a brand new band composed of members from other projects. Add a traditional liquid light show, a top shelf analog DJ, and a central location for the venue on a perfect spring Friday evening with no other psych events to compete with. On top of that, the flyer for the event was an amazing hand drawn and hand lettered poster with a unique color pallet that gave the event a sense of posterity before it even happened. These are the factors needed for a successful show in this modern age of distraction and information saturation. On paper, this show was going to be fun, and you just had to come out because you know all your friends would be there to share a pint and to listen to some psychedelic sounds.

Overall, it was a professional event through and through, and the result was a great evening of entertainment. This was the most psychedelic thing going on in San Francisco that evening, and everybody knew it. The thought of “If you build it, they will come”, ran through my mind many times throughout the event. In the expanded parklet outside the Milk Bark, locals sat having a happy hour drinks as the bands loaded in all their gear for the show. California Raga Association had an outside jam attracting people to the show even before door time, as they tuned their swarmandal autoharps, and played an improvised performance of Congas and Turkish Darbouka over a drone. The Mad Alchemy liquid light show in the far corner of the club shined bright, and took over as the main source of illumination as the sun set. Passerby’s on the street listening to the Raga Association warm up inquired about the evenings psychedelic festivities. Those even not in the know, could tell something was brewing that evening. One passerby said he would extend the invite to musical legend Terry Riley who could join California Raga Association on stage, but alas he didn’t attend. However there was a lot of possibility in the air that anything could happen.

Since Psycobillin mushrooms have become legal in many areas in the San Francisco bay area, there has been no shortage of supplies to anyone who need any in attendance. Milk Bar is a nice central venue in the middle of San Francisco, and it’s pretty easy for most people in different parts of the city to make it out to the show, so there it was a nice attendance. There were lots of familiar faces from the Bay Area Psych scene, and it was good to see other people in bands not playing the event at the this show. The warm familiar liquid lights of Mad Alchemy put everyone at ease, as the mushrooms took effect for most people in the audience. Other than the Acid Test parties, I can’t recall the last show in which the majority of the people there were on psychedelics.

The chill vibe of the California Raga Association was a perfect start to the show. Tabla, Harmonium, Djembe, Darbouka, Congas, and Bansuri flute were played by the various 5 members of the band. Though absent a sitar player for this event, the band still played various other Eastern and Indian instruments over the tanpura drone giving each movement and different feel over the course of their half hour set. Being all improvised, the band was able to play off the vibe of each other and the audience. The poly rhythms of the different percussive instruments from different parts of the world gave a nice international sound to their set. Complimented with the bright liquid lights, it made for a nice transformative experience setting up a nice pallet cleanser for the Green Door set to follow. Dressed in their signature white clothing attire, the projections looked amazing lighting the group up on stage. This being their first show in awhile, the band played with fierce energy, almost giving a punk attitude to their otherwise Cosmic country garage sound. Hearing some of their classic songs live again, it sounded just as good as the record version. The new sound system at the Milk bar was being showcased in full effect, with deep bass, and every band member being able to be heard through the mix of all the other instruments. New tracks has a tremendous power behind each riff, making each song sound very distinct from each other. The sound reverberated throughout the whole club, and even outside to the street where people could appreciate the band from a far while smoking in the parklet without missing a moment of the show looking through the windows through the club to the back stage. At one point I had the irrational fear that If I stood too close to the stage, that I would be fully engulfed in the band’s sound, and that I would become part of the music and cease to exist on the physical plane. Fortunately that was not the case, and I was able to continue to enjoy the rest of the show in human form.

Los Angeles based band The High Tatras, named after the Slovakian alpine mountain range, took the stage next. “All Love” one of their recent singles had a slightly different vibe to it as did most of their set, almost playing alternate reality versions of the songs. Though still retaining some of the Lee Hazlewood style of songwriting and singing, the set had a lot of synth in the mix giving each track more of an 80’s psych vibe than Spacemen 3 guitar and tremolo. It was my first time seeing the band with their new drummer, and I liked the directions this group is going in. I thought of them as San Francisco band that is just based out of Los Angeles, completely unpretentious, and just focusing on playing the songs as best as they could amidst all the psychedelic lights and drugs. At one point with the visuals taking hold of the light show in the background, I imagined the band playing on the rings of Saturn. I still have to find out what song they were playing at that point, and it was the highlight of the set for me. I was thinking that I hope this band is appreciated as much in Los Angeles, as they are here amongst friends in San Francisco. I also enjoy all their music videos and aesthetics that they bring with their various flyers and album art.

Star Decay closed out the event, playing their first show. Composed of members of Coywolf, Spiral Electric, and The Green Door, this band was having a great time playing their set and sharing their music on stage for the first time. The reaction from the audience was very warm. This three piece had a very full sound. Big riffs and huge, HUGE choruses in their songs reminded me of 90’s songs I grew up listening to on the radio. Nobody can accuse this band of not writing very unique songs with very distinct melodies. You could tell when the big chorus was coming up, and they would use big dynamic shifts to get the crowd going. The 90’s vibe songwriting was very well received by the audience, and everybody got what the band was going for. They are destined to play big stadiums with this sound raining down heavy riffs.

There was a huge element of fun to this band balancing out the previous sets of the evening with art vibe of High Tatras, the raw energy of Green Door, and the mystical low key vibe of the California Raga Association. At one point I looked over to some people in the crowd during the Star Decay set, and their jaws were just dropped getting lost in the bands kinetic fun energy. I could hear many people verbally saying to each other that they were absolutely digging this set in between songs. Each song pulled them in more with some fantastic guitar tones and production, not just the songwriting on its own. They had a cool 3D printed logo of band on stage with a 5 pointed Star, with an inverted star in the middle. This was very unique, and it attracted people close to the stage for them to check out. This was great act to close the evening.

DJ Yoyodelico took over the sound system moving forward with an all vinyl DJ set. Selections of International psychedelic music got people dancing, and I personally loved hearing “Try a little sunshine” by the Factory, one of my favorite 60’s psych songs. Members of California raga Association played hand drums over some of the tracks towards the end of the evening adding a cool vibe on the dance floor, but not overpowering the DJ set. The event was very well attended over all, and I’ve not seen the Milk bar so packed. There were some real interesting people there, and so much going on, I didn’t have a chance to meet everyone. The event was highly documented as well with many photographers and videographers, which is essential in this modern age to document and show online to help promote future events. Only when people see what they are missing, do they come out to the next event.  Hopefully there will be more shows like this in the future moving forward in San Francisco. They can’t happen all the time like this, but when they do, they hit hard. Events like this are a happening that you just had to be there. Words and images only just try to capture the magic of certain events, and this was one of them.

By Matt Robeson Martin

New bio coming soon.