Far From Kansas When not busy inspiring the youth, teacher Joel Levin has one seriously cool after school job. Mr. Levin, as the kids call him, fronts the local rock band Far From Kansas with his brother Matt and friends Frank Cruz and Chris Dixon. One of the county’s best kept musical secrets, their sound is as much alternative country as indie rock. The band has been playing in various incarnations since they were teenagers. While their aspirations of full time music superstardom may be gone, their focus on solid songwriting and the occasional but always stellar live gigs are still intact. They’ll be celebrating the release of their new CD, The Ghost Inside Of You, with an all ages show at the Alpine on Jan. 26, where you can expect Hohner harmonicas, Hammond organs and some extremely literate songs sung by the super-cool teacher everybody wished they had in high school.

Shades of Day Most successful musicians can recall the moment of their personal big bang — that explosive instance where the path of their lives suddenly appeared before them, beckoning them to follow. Brendan James, the 26-year-old frontman for Ojai-based quintet Shades of Day, is no different. Only, he’s not quite sure there was any single catalytic experience. Music is certainly burned into his DNA: His mother plays guitar, and his father replaced Sammy Hagar as the vocalist for ’70s proto-metallurgists Montrose. But up until his mid-teens, James virtually ignored what appeared to be his birthright, preferring sports and other, more “traditional” adolescent activities. Then, at 14, he picked up a bass and nothing else mattered. Call it “immaculate inspiration.” Since then, the LA-born songwriter has been chugging straight toward his goal of becoming a professional rocker. And he just recently crossed a significant mile-marker: Last year, his band celebrated the release of MAYDAY!, their first self-produced disc of driving, Southern-tinged hard rock. This year, they’re bringing it to the masses, starting with a performance at Sans Souci on Jan. 27.



Zack Hexum It’s not easy being the brother of a rap-rock star, but Zack Hexum, the sibling of 311 frontman Nick Hexum, is carving out his own niche, performing music that’s more inspired by Elliott Smith and Nick Drake than the Red Hot Chili Peppers. His debut, The Story So Far, featured winning melodies and lyrics and some ace guitar and saxophone work from Zack himself. And it was released on his brother’s own label, What Have You Records. How’s that for brotherly love? Hexum performs at Zoey’s on Jan. 24.

Dixie Dregs Georgia’s Dixie Dregs are among the more accomplished fusion groups in history, mashing up jazz and rock in the mid-1970s with such albums as The Great Spectacular (long out of print) and Free Fall. The band dissolved after Industry Standard in the early 1980s, with master guitarist Steve Morse forming his own project that rampaged through the decade in its own right. The Dregs reunited in 1992, bringing their virtuoso chops to the country yet again, and they’re still going strong today. Morse and the Dregs perform at The Canyon on Jan. 18.

Sexual Jedi What exactly is a Sexual Jedi? One can only imagine that it has something to do with the use of mind tricks and lightsabers in the most inappropriate manner. But isn’t that an oxymoron? It seems that a Jedi knight would have sworn himself to a life of celibacy. Yoda probably wasn’t seeing much action on a swamp-infested shit hole like Degobah. Then again, there was a lot of heat between Luke and Leia, which is pretty freaky. Wait, what were we talking about again? Oh yeah, Sexual Jedi. Well, in the most literal terms, it’s a two-man prog-weirdo side project for Return frontman Derek Jennings, and they’re playing at Billy O’s on Jan. 20. And the music is nearly as exciting — and perplexing —as thinking about the subtext of their name.

Picks of the Week

Picks of the Week

Reel Big Fish No band represents the short-lived, much maligned and yet still fondly remembered ska revival of the late 1990s more than Reel Big Fish. Sporting bright horns and even brighter Hawaiian shirts, the Huntington Beach-based band started out as a soundtrack for frat parties before recording their breakthrough, Turn the Radio Off, which hit just at the right moment in time for the group to become alt-rock radio darlings. Armed with hyper-caffeinated hooks, a good sense of humor and a supremely energetic live show, the band shot past many of their contemporaries as the figureheads of the SoCal Third Wave ska movement. Of course, that all ended as quickly as it began, but these Fish are still swimming as cult figures for those who remain dedicated to checkerboard slip-ons, pork pie hats and goofy sunglasses. Reel Big Fish performs at the Canyon on Jan. 12 with special guests Suburban Legend, Starpool and local heroes Army of Freshmen.

The Warriors Oxnard has long been a breeding ground for hardcore bands, and it seems like only a matter of time before someone from this area breaks out big. Enter the Warriors. Actually, only one member — guitarist Javier Zarate — is a native of the fabled Land of No Toilets; the other four are from Tehachapi, a conservative teen-age wasteland about two hours up the road. But considering the scene in Kern County is practically non-existent, the band made its name initially among the Nardcore faithful. The Warriors came together in 2001, with Zarate, then already a hardcore veteran despite still being in high school, joining six months later. After building a local following for two years, the band was all set to split up when Eulogy Records came calling. A subsidiary of Warner Brothers, the label bought them a van and put them on the road. Over the course of a year, the quintet’s popularity grew to the point that they can now sell out popular Southern California clubs like the Showcase Theater and Chain Reaction, as well as 400-capacity venues in left-field places like Boise, Idaho. In 2004, the band released its full-length debut, War Is Hell, a crushing disc of pavement-punching metal with enough aggressive hooks to earn them comparisons to Rage Against the Machine. The group headlines at Alpine on Jan. 12.



UNWRITTEN LAW Unwritten Law sound like where they come from: San Diego. Playing speedy, poppy punk with the high-octane energy of a Mountain Dew commercial, the band reflects the skate and surf-centric vibe of L.A.’s southernly neighbor. Formed in 1990, the group are unlikely veterans of the Warped Tour scene, unpretentiously sticking to their guns and honing their sense of melody over the years. In doing so, they’ve earned themselves a devoted fan base — if not the mainstream success of some of their peers. The Law rollerblades up north and into the Ventura Theatre (a few months early for the Warped season) on Jan. 7.

DR SURF Say the word “California” today to an outsider and ultimately, three things are going to come to mind: earthquakes, brushfires and a bodybuilding actor in the governor’s mansion. Back in the day, though, there’d be only one thing: surf. Surf is what made us famous and surf music is the aural interpretation of that beautiful image. As the name implies, Dr. Surf plays the sound of California, mixing instrumentals and vocal tracks with classic Dick Dale-style guitar and Beach Boys-esque harmonies. And just to perfect the oceanside vibe, they toss a little reggae and Latin music into the pot. Come hear the sound Ventura(and coastal California) built, as Dr. Surf hangs ten at Zoey’s Café on Jan. 7.

AVENTINE On their website, local progressive hardcore group Aventine says that their singer, nicknamed “the Persian King” (a step up from the Prince of Persia), “has been studying the refined and elegant art of screaming his guts out.” That may be a joke, but in practice the band does making screaming one’s guts out sound as measured and perfected as a high-level piano recital. It’s hard to tell if their mission statement — “to not only change the way people see music but also the way people view life and faith in Jesus Christ” — is written with the same amount of sarcasm, so it’s best to see them for yourself to find out. Aventine performs at Alpine on Jan. 6.








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