Let's get one thing out of the way: If the rest of the musical output that comes out of our local music contingent this year is as strong as Thee Lovecult Band's latest single, "Heaven Help Me," 2023 will turn out to be a remarkable year.
The song is that good and, almost three months in, it's already the main contender for my favorite song of the year.
It's a soulful meditation; a psychedelic, rhinestone-and-neon gospel about the way fear and ecstasy can intersect right at the precipice of prospective potential or it could be a prayer for respite at the overwhelming weight of one's own emotions.
Sonically, it represents both sides: the elated and enthralled as well as the existentially anxious with equal validation. All feelings are validated in the Lovecult.
The song starts off with singer Justus the Mystic plainly stating "Give it everything you got," before the group kicks in with Adrian Diaz's deep drums, Joni Haupt's crunchy guitars, and vocals cascading over each other, especially as Justus sings "I need heaven to help me help the way I feel." It's joyful, powerful, affirming and raw; sounding both celestial and cosmic simultaneously. Emotion-filled androids rapturously contemplating the sacred wonders of love and loss.
"I think the reason we have been received so wonderfully is because our main focus is to create a safe place for people to experience themselves, rather than trying to sell something," Haupt said via email.
I saw that firsthand during last October's Lamplighter Lounge show put on by Crimson Skye. It wasn't the full band that evening. It was only Justus, who uses they/them pronouns, performing on a Fender Rhodes electric piano with bandmate John Love (aka John Irwin) accompanying them with a vocal effects processor. (Both Irwin and Diaz are in the acclaimed local band Hate Drugs.)
It was a sincere, cathartic and connected experience. One of "transcendence, solace and community," as I once described a similarly emotionally resonant show I witnessed years ago.
There was no wall between the musicians and their audience. Justus, with their humbled, shamanistic demeanor, is a confident and disarming performer. Irwin's skill with vocal effects and especially as a singer is the gold dust that made their music so affecting.
I was so moved by that performance, on a night that had had Skye and such local lumineers as Monty Byrom and Jim Ranger also performing, that I named it the best show of 2022. Their recent livestream performance at Bakersfield Sound Co. was filmed in front of a live audience that was at capacity. That performance will be released on YouTube in the near future.
Everyone has a church in one form or another; for some it's a chapel, others a stage. Based on what I've seen and heard, Thee Lovecult Band's mission isn't necessarily to provide that church, but to make you feel as welcome, validated and accepted as you are in yours when you listen to them. "Heaven Help Me" isn't just a solid starting point, it's now the bar.
"Heaven Help Me" is now available on all streaming platforms.
Editor's note: Due to weather conditions impacting the travel of the musicians involved, both of the following shows, originally scheduled for Friday, have been postponed. The Marcos Reyes & Friends show has been moved to April 8 and the Matthew Bray birthday show will take place on April 7.
Marcos Reyes & Friends with Noe G, 7 p.m. April 8, Druids Lodge, 501 Sumner St. $20 presale at eventbrite.com, $25 at the door; text 661-808-4279 for VIP table information.
Local percussionist Marcos Reyes is probably as well known for his beaming smile as he is for his explosive playing. It's tough to play solos on just two drums like the timbales, a set of congas, or bongos — much less play them so well, so captivatingly, that you mesmerize audiences and wind them up into frenzied cheers and applause.
For Reyes, these are reactions de rigueur thanks to his natural charisma that translates his magnetic charisma into fantastic sound. It's also led him to performing on stages all over the world with the likes of Carlos Santana, Los Lobos, Malo and War, which he's been with since 1998.
At the Druids Lodge on Sumner Street, Reyes, along with locals Benny Carrizales on keyboards and Lee Wilson on drums, will be joined by some Los Angeles-based players who also perform with Reyes in that band that's "been low-riding around the world for the past 25 years" to celebrate Reyes' 40-plus years in the music business.
They'll perform songs from all of the bands that Reyes has played with so expect a night of expertly played Latin rock, copious dancing and good spirits all around. That smile of his is there for a reason: Reyes has fun when he plays and that fun is intoxicating and contagious.
"It's been a dream come true," said Reyes.
DJ Noe G will perform between sets.
Fun fact: Reyes is a successful business owner who has owned his own downtown hair salon, Marcos's Hair Salon, for decades (he owned the east Bakersfield-based The Last Tangle before that). His faithful clientele — including one who's been going to him since 1982 — waits for him to cut their hair when he has time between gigs.
Ghost Dance, RiotFire, and Pink Pops, 8:30 p.m. April 7, Riley's Tavern, 1523 19th St. Free admission.
Multi-instrumentalist Matthew Bray moved from Bakersfield awhile back to pursue his studies, but he will return to Riley's Tavern to perform with three of his bands in celebration of his 27th birthday.
All of the bands will perform original music at this 21-and-over show. Pink Pops is a project involving Bray and some students from Cal State L.A. RiotFire, is Bray's solo passion project with influences as varied as Linkin Park, Flobots, Awolnation and Rammstein.
The headlining act will be Ghost Dance, the ambient live-looping duo of Bray and guitarist Brian Lee.
If you went to a lot of local shows in 2016, expect to see a lot of familiar faces at Riley's. Although I'm not as familiar with Pink Pops and RiotFire, Ghost Dance is reason enough to catch this show. The moments they sometimes make can border on eerie in truly the most David Lynch sense of the word.