Electric Six, Constellation Room
at The Observatory
3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, CA 92704
Special to Reviewer Magazine
by Brent D. Tharp
Electric Six have always posed a bit of a conundrum for me. On one hand, they obviously know how to play, and they’ve put out eight albums at this point – volume alone would indicate that they are professional musicians, dedicated to their craft. On the other hand, I always wonder: “Are they just kidding?” With a catalog that includes “Gay Bar,” “Danger! High Voltage,” and “Formula 409,” regardless of their popularity, one is given to wonder about the strategy behind the songs. I find it perplexing, despite every album having a distinct theme. The good news, having seen their live show in Orange County on March 1, is that Electric Six are amazingly talented musicians, can change on the fly with audience demands, and have great rapport with the crowd. The bad news, if you want to call it that, is that sometimes I still wonder if they’re just kidding.
Before I get to the music, let’s touch on Electric Six as entertainers. First, Dave Valentine will never be confused with Axl Rose, and that’s a good thing; Electric Six are exceedingly punctual. The other thing, which one gathers quickly from a perusal of www.electricsix.com or their Facebook page (tinyurl.com/bpd4ysl), is that E6 (the short form) is self-effacing, especially Valentine. They also don’t make any promises beyond showing up on time, and delivering some music. That claim is obviously tongue in cheek, as the interaction with the crowd is exceptional. Then again, it should be with a crowd numbering around 250. Despite some of Valentine’s jokes falling short (mentioning that a song is from “one of our albums” became old after the second or third time), those instances were rare. Further, one must consider that E6 are from Detroit, yet Valentine managed to connect with the crowd by numerous references to Orange County and Southern California. In this writer’s opinion, Valentine’s ability to connect with the crowd is better than that of almost any other front man in the business.
When it comes to actual musicianship, E6 change from self-effacing to exceptionally serious. Despite Valentine’s claims that the band members were getting progressively more loaded as the night wore on, that was undoubtedly untrue, as the quality of the playing never faltered, nor did Valentine’s initial slurring get worse.
Though it’s patently unfair to criticize a band when it steps away from its typical style for a bit, I’ll do it, and say that “Crazy Horses,” the opening number, didn’t excite me in the slightest. It was pedestrian at best, and lacked the lyrical density and structure that one expects from Valentine. To E6’s credit, though I’m not sure it was meant to be taken seriously, Valentine advised the crowd after the first three songs, that “Those first three songs were our worst songs. This next song,
is our best song.” This reviewer would tend to agree, though the second song, “It Ain’t Punk Rock,” which is actually an indictment of shitty punk bands that pose as musicians, seemed especially appropriate in a venue that has its share of punk rock opening bands, with no musical affinity to the headliners that follow them.
It was at about this time that Valentine pointed me out to the assembled crowd, stating that they had an OC Weekly reviewer in their midst. I’m not sure if he got my “San Diego” shout-out correction, but I gave a valiant effort, in any case. I also commend him for continuing the Orange County connection by his lead-in to the next song, which concluded with “We’re Electric Six, from Tustin, California,” which got serious applause from the crowd.
By the way, that #4 “best song” was “Jam It in the Hole,” which is an exceptional song, but I would not call it E6’s best, by any stretch. It was followed, and eclipsed, by a couple fan favorites, “Improper Dancing” and “Danger! High Voltage;” both share catchy riffs, solid guitar solos, and sarcastic, yet fun-loving, lyrics. I think that best describes E6’s music – even at their most acerbic, the lyrics are still meant, primarily, in a spirit of fun.
Throughout the remainder of the set, E6 were able to blend in some catchy dance tunes (“I Wish This Song Was Louder,” “Gay Bar,” “Naked Pictures (of Your Mother),” and “Formula 409”), along with what Valentine described as politically important songs about cloning (“Steal Your Bones”) and freedom to assemble (“Down at McDonnelzzz”).
A couple interesting scenes developed during the second half of the show. First, I’ve never considered “Formula 409” to be a mosh song; then again, I’ve never really considered any E6 song to be particularly moshable. Then again, it’s Orange County, so I really shouldn’t be surprised. Let’s just say that a mosh of 10-12 hearty folks broke out, and leave it at that (editorial note: I don’t think this was the true “pro set” of OC moshers, considering that they couldn’t maintain a solid boundary, even with the limited numbers in the mosh itself).
Second, and as often happens in a most annoying fashion (annoying when you’re trying to watch a band and this happens above your head), crowd surfing became the coda to the mosh. In this case, however, the total number of crowd surfers was one brave female. The number of crowd surfers upended back into the crowd by Valentine also was one, with the admonishment, “No white women on the stage!” Though I heard some uncertain gasps by a few folks, most people familiar with E6’s songs, such as “She’s White” and the closing number, “We Were Witchy Witchy White Women,” got the joke.
Valentine prefaced the closer by asking, “Where are all the lesbians in the audience?” Based on a hand count alone, OC has a much higher proportion of lesbians than I would have guessed.
All told, E6 played a solid 1:15 set of 15 songs, including the encore (“Dance Commander,” one of their best). Valentine attributed the length of the set to “not having seven to nine punk bands open for us, to ‘draw in the crowd’,” as they’ve typically experienced in Orange County. In the final analysis, though E6 may be joking at times, and might even poke fun at the absurdity of the environment in which they find themselves, they never take shots at their audience, and they are definitely, positively, not kidding.