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This Ain't No Malt Shop

Ihave been wanting to come and see this space since it reopened in the fall last year. I figured a tent and a trashcan fire would have to be better than Chasers was. I went there once to see my cousin’s band, Hialeah, play a set and never went back. Bad stage, bad sound, and an eerie smell. 180 degrees later, The Soda Bar was born.

It just so happens that a group from San Francisco that I have been wanting to see was playing at the venue, so I bolstered up the courage and set out on my own. First of all, the plain clear light bulbs used in the sign give it a welcoming appeal. Upon entering, I am welcomed by an old friend. Matt Molarius from Transfer is working the door on a Tuesday night. At once, I didn’t feel so alone.

The first thing to catch my eyes are the 5 highrise semi-circle booths on the left hand side. Upholstered with clean black vinyl and backed with colorful vertical striped wall paper in brown, eggshell and mauve. I kind of wanted to lick the wall and see if it was anything like the magic stuff in Gene Wilder’sWilly Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The bar was directly across from my cozy perch and I took it in. 20 taps with a good variety and 9 cushioned bar stools. My only complaint at this point was regarding the TV. Why do all bars have to have a television with it’s bleary light permeating an otherwise perfectly lit room. Commercials are the horrific work of an oppressionist regime. At least have on a cool video, because these pharmaceutical ads are making me nauseous!

So I ordered a seven and seven which resulted in a good amount of the first seven and a splash of the latter. A bit strong for the first, but by the second, your’e just fine. The bar splits up two rooms; one seemingly bar and the other is the venue. The bar top is shiny lacquered wood and I almost feel like I am in a malt shop in the 50’s. Well, that may be a stretch, but the stage pulls me out of this reverie. The Blue Foot owner’s have done a great job positioning the stage so that it can be watched regardless of your vantage point. I wish they had done the same thing with the sound, as the vocals got lost if you weren’t on the venue side of the bar. The stage is slightly raised and has a cushioned black vinyl backing which helps absorb a great portion of the would be noise. Green and blue lights flooded the bands with ambiance.

I saw a pool table in back by the restrooms and yet another television ruining my eyeballs with the History Channel (note that I may watch this at home, but it doesn’t fit in this bar). A decent crowd of fifty or so has started to accumulate and the first band is taking the stage. The Barrett Trap takes off with a good enough pace.But soon it's obvious that the drummer seems to have timing issues and the guitarrist loses his guitar on the second song, ever hear of strap locks? The music sounds like a mish mosh of Jimi Hendrix riffs muddled with psychadelic garage pop. Rob Odder who seems to be leding this three-piece has great hair, though, and that is worth something. He says, “I knew it was time for a change”, and then it just got too noisy and experimental for this lad.

I was then joined by three compatriots who were eager to take solace in my booth or my company, but I welcomed them with a smile. We spoke of music and bicycles and of delicious Columbian food. Then Sunday Times took the stage. This was the Sex Pistols meets the Toy Dolls. Decent garage punk and nice tone. Junior Metro has a lightning bolt on his guitar strap which makes me smile for some reason. Junior and Ryan take turns holding the lead responsibilities and on choruses sing together. What ever happened to two part harmonies? Why do they sing everything in unison? This leads to many other questions about the quality of post punk out there today. The last song is mine and my new friends favorite, something out of a Velvet Underground LP. That was a nice way to end the set.

Next is Spirit Photography, which I ahd to do a double take because there was much more noise coming from the stage than could be produced by two mere mortals. Ok, there are the sequencers. Craig and Brian form this, shoegaze meets Frank Black, duo. I notice that craig balances between guitar and singing while he has a tiny keyboard propped up on two portable tables that your mom might have used for TV dinners in the eighties. Each song sounds the same and I soon get turned off by the monotone drivel coming out of the speakers. Saved by the DJ, Ghost Town by The Specials comes on as the band finshes and my comrades and I applaud the change.

Next up is SF based sextet, Magic Bullets and the reason I am still up this late on a Tuesday night. Philip Benson has a unique, yet familiar vocal delivery. Sans instruments, he is able to make full use of the stage and his lovely voice. I hear strains of Ian McCullough in there most prominently, but bits of Ian Curtis as well. That’s two Ians for the price of one. All six musicians are on stage and moving. They are really into their music and so am I. Guitarrist, Corey Cunningham, hunches over and gets into a swaying groove to each tender beat while he glides his fingers over pulsating chords and melodies. The way the lighting fell on these savants made me wish I had 3-D glasses on so that I wouldn’t be missing anything.

I definitely feel like I am thrown back to 1985, but these guys also keep it in the present. I would have liked to hears a backing vocal or two out of the other five players, but I still feel the songs were well sung and played. Matthew Kallman filled in the gaps with his mellotronic influenced keyboard styles. Nathan Sweatt played a Rickenbacker bass which had such a soothing tone and was placed evenly throughout the tunes. On drums, Colin Dobrin never overstepped the rest of the band and they played in sweet unison. I hope that they come back to San Diego and play a better time slot as I feel they are worthy of capturing an audience here.

A farewell to my new cronies and I am out the door, pleased by the fact that there is another venue in town where good drinks and local music are coming together in a relative way. I will definitely return and partake in the wonderful atmosphere that is the Soda Bar. Take care, friends.

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: 619-255-7224
  • Name: The Soda Bar
  • Address: 3615 El Cajon Boulevard