Cheap Trick If you’re a political figure, there is nothing cooler you can do nowadays than go one-on-one with Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report. But imagine if you’re a musician, and already a reasonably cool one at that, and you appear on the show not to spar with the bespectacled faux-conservative, but to do what you do best: shred a double-neck guitar. Your hipness levels would soar through the friggin’ roof! That’s exactly what happened when Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen joined in an all-star jam on the show’s theme song at the end of the mock news commentary program a few months ago. And not only that, but Nielsen wrote the damn song, too! Suffice to say, Nielsen, and by proxy Cheap Trick, are just about the coolest late-1970s rockers on the planet right now. But anyone who has ever listened to — and inevitably sang along with — hits like “Surrender,” “Dream Police” and, of course, “I Want You To Want Me,” already knows that. Cheap Trick performs at the Canyon on Feb. 23.

DMX It’s unfortunate that Earl Simmons, known to the hardcore hip-hop world as DMX, has allowed recent personal controversies away from the mic to overshadow what an intense, raw performer he truly is. Because back in the late 1990s, there were few rappers in the game rugged enough to step to him. Not only was he one of hip-hop’s grittiest characters, he was also one of its most successful. His first four albums debuted at Number One — an unprecedented feat for any artist — each one producing a handful of radio hits that managed to be commercial and street-credible at the same time. He also made forays into acting, starring in action films alongside Jet Li and Steven Seagal. But then his criminal past started to come back to haunt him, and after a series of run-ins with the law, it appeared the heir apparent to Tupac’s throne had squandered his talent. All is not lost, however, as proven by last year’s Year of the Dog…Again, and will be confirmed when DMX performs at the Ventura Theater on Feb. 23.

Craig Robinson You may know Craig Robinson as Darryl, the warehouse supervisor on NBC’s hit version of The Office. On the show, Robinson is known for handling the absurdity of Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott with a calm attitude and dry humor. And, on a recent Christmas episode, we learned he plays the synthesizer. As a standup comedian in real life, Robinson does all these things, too — although he’s probably never met anyone close to as, um, odd as Michael. Get ready to fleece it out when Robinson appears at Comedy Esquire on Feb. 23 and 24.



Nathan McEuen The McEuens whose names begin with the letter J aren’t the only ones making a place for themselves in the music world. Nathan, brother of Jonathan and son of John — of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band fame — is working to carve out his own niche in the music world. Instead of directly plying the Americana of his family trade, Nathan prefers to dabble in what he describes as “future retro folk rock,” an eclectic blend of pop, surf and traditional folk. His latest album, Grand Design, deftly fuses together those influences on a record that’s about fighting to maintain dignity in the often soul-crushing world of the music business. Not that he isn’t prepared to take those difficulties head-on. After all, he is a McEuen. Nathan performs at Zoey’s on Feb. 18, where he promises to debut some new tunes.

Pepper Next to leis, coconuts and Don Ho, pop-punk-reggae three-piece Pepper may be Hawaii’s greatest import. Starting in 1996, the band found itself aligned with similarly-minded outfits such as Sublime and its offshoots. In the late 90s, the group moved to Los Angeles, where it opened for big-name reggae acts such as Eek-a-Mouse and Pato Banton. Then in 1999, the group signed to Volcom Entertainment, and through its appearances on several label compilations expanded its fan base into the skateboarding Warped Tour crowd. They played with everyone from 311 to Snoop Dogg, and scored a radio hit with the bawdy ska jam “Give It Up.” These days, the group can sell out clubs on its own, and may do just that with their appearance at the Canyon on Feb. 16.

Steel Pulse At one point in history, before it was confiscated by suburban neo-hippies, reggae was a music of protest so potent it raged in tandem with the British punk movement. An influx of immigrants from the West Indies first imported the island rhythms to the streets of London in the 1960s, and by the next decade their children were using the sounds of Jamaica to convey the experience of growing up in England at a time of serious youth revolt. Stationed at the forefront of this cross-cultural convergence was Steel Pulse, a group of young Rastafarians who formed out of Birmingham in 1975. Avoiding the romantic platitudes of many of their peers, the band struck a militant pose, denouncing racism and governmental oppression while celebrating the power of dance, Rasta spirituality and, of course, marijuana. Their defiant stance immediately established them as brothers-in-arms with their angry white brethren in such outfits as the Clash and Generation X, whom they often played with. But their brand of righteous indignation has proven to be more durable: While punk ignited and burned out quickly, Steel Pulse is still performing to this day, with a sound that’s been polished by three-plus decades of experience and a force that has not weakened over time. The legendary ensemble marches into the Ventura Theatre on Feb. 18.



Tenacious D Rock stars, movie stars, comedians, true musicians, carriers of the acoustic-metal torch — is there anything Jack Black and Kyle Gass can’t do? As Tenacious D, the two have far surpassed Weird Al Yankovic as the reigning kings of humor music. It all began in 1994, when the two chunky brothers met in typical LA fashion: at an acting class. They quickly bonded and leapt into the alt-comedy scene, distinguishing themselves from the indie laugh pack by actually being good songwriters. In 1999, they scored a series on HBO, cementing their cult status. After his memorable turn in High Fidelity, Black’s solo popularity skyrocketed, but he never left the D behind. Their self-titled debut dropped in 2001, followed in 2006 by The Pick of Destiny, a compliment to their long-awaited movie of the same name. While the film didn’t do quite as well as it would have had it been released, oh, five years ago, it did galvanize the band’s fan base, who’ll surely be out in force when the pair appear at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara on Feb. 13.

Bob Weir & Ratdog Up until 1995, Bob Weir was known as the inventive rhythm guitarist to Jerry Garcia’s slippery leads in the Grateful Dead. Following Jer’s untimely death, Weir moved on to fronting his own group, Ratdog, and he brought those six-string skills with him. Originally consisting of bassist Rob Wasserman and ex-Primus drummer Jay Lane, the band operated under the Dead’s old MO: never stop touring. Performing a mix of Weir originals and reworked Dead tunes, the group wound through clubs and theaters and eventually established a following of its own (not just of displaced Deadheads desperately looking for a band to call home). The lineup has revolved around Weir through the course of its decade-plus existence, honing its improvisational chops into a jamming machine as well-oiled as the one that preceded it. Get out the patchouli for Ratdog’s visit to the Ventura Theater on Feb. 10.

Chevy Metal Chevy Metal plays dirt rock. Don’t know what dirt rock is? “Music a meth dealer from 1978 would have listened to,” the band explains. And not just music that sounds like it’s from the late ’70s — music that literally is from the late ’70s. Stuff like ZZ Top, Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple and early Aerosmith. Yeah, Chevy Metal is a cover band, but look at some of the names that have passed through the Topanga Canyon-based group: Dave Navarro, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Grohl, other members of Jane’s Addiction and, of course, Ratt. Currently, Taylor Hawkins, power drummer for Foo Fighters, is sitting in behind the kit, preparing to kick out some monstrous, dirt’n’speed-fueled jams. It’s not to be taken seriously, but this is some serious rock’n’roll. The Canyon gets down and dirt-rocky with Chevy Metal on Feb. 9.



Army of Freshmen Seven hundred shows. Six international tours. A 1,500-member street team. 10,000 unsolicited MySpace friends. 500 website hits per day. 17,000 units shifted. In an era where pop stars are rolled off an assembly line like Beanie Babies, Ventura vets Army of Freshmen — fronted by Reporter contributor Chris Jay — have truly earned each and every thing they have accomplished so far in their eight-year history. And they did it the hard way: By themselves. Theirs is a sound of collision, of genres mingling, mishing and mashing — a dash of power-pop, a little bit of punk, a sprinkling of New Wave — but not quite fusing together in a fashionable, easy-to-digest chain of hyphens. It’s something else entirely, a completely unique sound that belongs only to them. And their concerts…well, that’s another story altogether. Experience it for yourself and help celebrate the release of the Freshmen’s new album, Under the Radar, on Feb. 3.

The Return In a music scene where bands come and go with the breeze, the Return is the solid foundation of the local rock community. Starting in 1999, the trio began promoting its kinetic blend of ska, power-pop, reggae and indie rock throughout the area and quickly amassed a following big enough to pack preeminent local venues such as the Livery Theater and the Loft. They soon caught the attention of members of the group Rx Bandits, who took the band on the road with them and whose producer Chris Fudurich agreed to record their full-length debut Build Me A Reason. With all that momentum behind them, the group has developed an audience outside Ventura County, but they’ve never forgotten that everything began here — as evidenced by their month-long Monday night residency at Billy O’s, kicking off Feb. 5.

Rising Son “I can’t be held prisoner to my own past,” says local reggae singer Levi. And therein lies the main concept behind Rising Son, the group he has fronted since 2001 — the idea of transcending the pain, suffering and misfortune that defines humanity and moving along down the road toward self-actualization. Take Root, the band’s first album, is a collection of forceful, strikingly authentic roots reggae, driven by the solid groove of the supporting musicians and fueled by the indelible passion of its singer. The disc is comprised mostly of songs written by Levi when he was 15 and 16 years old, but the themes are not marked with a timestamp. Sing along when Rising Son performs at the Drink on Feb. 1.








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