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Ro-Sham-Bo

December fills the air. It’s scarf weather in San Diego and a perfect night to go to The Casbah for a musical treat. I had originally gone with the focus of reviewing Long Live Logos, but a series of hand movements changed fate on this frosty evening.

Let me explain. I walked in to the crispest sound I have ever heard from the Casbah stage. Everything was well balanced and aurally pleasing. I looked on the stage to find four lads playing seemingly over-varnished rock. It took me a moment, but I soon became drawn in by singer Evan Robinson’s hand movements which seemed to sell a genuine story drawn from real experience. His Morrissey-like finesse on stage accompanied by his warm voice brought me to realize this was actually War Stories.

Evan explained that they were placed differently in the line up due to a loss at Ro-Sham-Bo. Turns out after some research, this group has toured with the likes of Kasabian and San Diego’s own Augustana. At one time signed to Columbia Records and unfortunately dropped. I could see the appeal of their stylistic rock music and wondered why they didn’t survive against their contemporaries when I would rather hear them versus the aforementioned at any time.

A solid back beat was given by the rest of the pack without over stepping on the singer’s political and hopeful lyrics on “Hangin’ On”, and I liked the take on bits of speeches coming over the PA from November’s potential presidential campaigners. You can see a great video on their Myspace page for this tune. The bassist cameoed on piano, and there seemed to be some prearranged synths coming through on a few songs. Other standouts were “Lion” which was the song I entered into this space with and “Four Fingers”. Evan bears a tattoo, apart from the others, which stood out on his left hand reading HOPE, and the back of his Roland keyboard states “Create A Miracle”. Very inspiring set. The audience looking something more like an assembly in a Seattle venue with flannels and knit caps, was into every moment, some mouthing lyrics to the closing tune.

What happened next was strange, and intrigueing. After War Stories left the stage, several men started to set up their gear while wearing skeletal face make-up and painter’s smocks. Upon closer inspection, the drummer, Lee Williams, had donned cat whiskers and the guitarrist had an uncanny resemblance to Frank Zappa. What is going on here?

During The Burning Of Rome’s sound check, we were treated to something of a baroque hoe-down from frontman Adam Traub. Obviously a well schooled pianist, I could only wonder what this would sound like amidst the costumes and fanfare. Soon the dark synth-pop starts to careen with my eardrums in a symbiotic wave. It’s hard to tell what Adam is singing about as his vocal range dances up and down between falsettos, crooning and screaming. It’s not until the other four band mates start shouting “Run, Run, Run” and “Die, Die, Die” on “Death By Discotech” that I start to understand what this is all about.

I heard ska and jungle mingled in with an alarming amount of time changes that would make a rookie musician falter in a heartbeat. I turn to my trusty sidekick Mike with a knowing look that is returned. We are experiencing something cleverly orchestrated and meticulously performed. I want to call it "evil circus disco rock", but I am unable to completely genrify these guys. Pleasantly cornered with an uncostumed keyboardess that stands out a bit ironically, The Burning Of Rome have pulled it off. Yet, the 70+ people watching seem to be unsure of how to surf the musical wave. It was a daunting task to nod your head to the unrelenting beats or to be sure whether an applaud would suffice in the interim.

Adam thanked everyone for coming and celebrating Pearl Harbor Day with him. I noted the banner hanging from his keyboard in bold letters, “DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP”. I realize I can’t give up and I try to remain for the reason I came. But alas, the wintery cold tells me I must flee into the night. “Frank Zappa” tells me I look like his friend Sean and I play along bidding them a fond farewell with familiarity and a promise to all hang out together soon. I guess this is a night for mistaken identities and gambled away set times, all ending in a delightful bit of chicanery.

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: 619-232-4355
  • Name: The Casbah
  • Address: 1201 Kettner Blvd.