There is pretty much only one place in the world that you could possibly imagine seeing a festival comprising of 90 bands playing over two days, showcasing the world’s greatest garage, power pop and punk (with a few genre curveballs in the mix) all in the perfect weather of what is only a month out of winter. Sunny Orange County of course! Home of the widely popular and growing label/record store , these guys are definitely making themselves and their annual Burgerama festival an incentive for excitement all around the world right now. Featuring some of the best West Coast garage bands as well as from all around the U.S., to bands from across the globe, it seems as if everyone was here for this massive event which took place over three stages at the Observatory in Santa Ana.
With the gates swinging open at 11:30am with the first bands on a 12pm, the kids were out early. Arriving at 11:50am, we hit the back of what seemed like a huge line but managed to make it in a bit after 12. With the prospect of so many bands playing throughout the day, it’s pretty hard to work out a schedule that gets you a glimpse at everyone. Despite this, it was almost impossible to not catch a full day’s worth of stellar bands.
First up, Corners kicked things off on the Constellation stage (the larger indoor stage), bringing a synth-laden mix of indie rock tunes sounding straight out of Camden. Except they’re from Echo Park. Still, and enjoyable start to the day. Next, outside to the MASSIVE Rama stage to catch Mystic Braves, another California via London sounding group, except this time jump back in time 50 years first. Plenty of big sunglasses and paisley shirts, and you’ve got the idea. Running back inside to catch the end of the set from Seattle band La Luz, who are really now in the running for my new favourite band. Lo-fi, multi-layer harmonies, with a 60’s girl group/surf sound, these girls definitely brought the day up a notch, preparing for a massive day ahead.
Having missed out on their pre-Burgerama side show on the previous Thursday, I made sure that this time I wasn’t going to miss Oklahoma band BRONCHO. With a smooth power pop bounce and some serious hooks, the now almost full Constellation Room was lapping up every note. But unfortunately a very distinctive voice from singer Ryan Lindsey was a little difficult to swallow. Didn’t seem to be a problem for most, however. Again out on the main stage, L.A. locals and Burger alumni together Pangea had the crowd in their hands. Obviously a favourite and a band that many people had come here primarily to see, frontman William Keegan belted out hook after hook and before long the centralised all ages area was awash with crowd-surfing kids and sweaty faces (a steady 30 degrees on both days made outdoors enjoyable for a short time only). And for those prepared to hang outside at the Rama stage for the most of the day, it became a priority to pace one’s self!
Following on from the crazed pace of together Pangea, they were followed by the Clavin sisters and their band Bleached. Power pop and sweet sounds from their great debut album Ride Your Heart made up the majority of their set, with a few new ones the girls have been working on – sounding great and sparking excitement for their next release. A few technical difficulties and mistakes over new songs dampened the vibe of their set slightly, but the sun was shining for them. Next, fresh from their tour with DZ Deathrays in Australia, Bass Drum of Death brought the fuzz tone back to the Rama stage, woven with pop sensibilities for a seriously good time in the sun. Too bad the sound coming from the massive Rama stage was not doing anyone any justice – John Barrett’s guitar was almost inaudible at any point around the stage, which was really disappointing.
With hope that the sound guys were getting their act together, next act Tijuana Panthers (who are really from Long Beach, CA) were a real highlight of the day. Bringing their retro tinged surf-garage to Burgerama, the kids were happy and the bodies where surfing again along to ridiculously catchy hits such as Creature and Redheaded Girl. Following them were one of Burger’s real buzz bands, Cherry Glazerr. The teenage stars Clem, Sean and Hannah are really owning the stage after extensive touring post release of their fantastic debut Haxel Princess. Hopefully we can see them out here in Australia before long, it would certainly be a treat.
After a sugar coated dose of pop from Cherry Glazerr, it was definitely a shift in the mood to see 80’s post punk heroes Gang of Four take to the stage. In reality, what we saw was sole original member Andy Gill on guitar, fleshed out by a much younger band and stand alone vocalist. Sure, they played well and featured a few songs from seminal album Entertainment but in reality it’s VERY hard to replicate the vibe of the early days, especially with practically a whole new band. They had a fair amount of new material to share to the Burger fans, who seemed to let it wash over them. An interesting choice of act that unfortunately, the kids that were there didn’t know who they were and the older generation were disappointed in the lack of real post punk sound.
Back to the Constellation Stage for future-pushing electronic act Tobacco, who too unfortunately copped back luck in both being pushed for time, and the faulty house speakers in the room. Great to see his songs here in a full room and to hear the punters in confused elation of what they were hearing, but sadly the sound was a downfall. Hanging here to catch psych-rock legends Black Angels did improve the mood – hypnotic visuals and their well know new age psych sound, it was easy to be lulled into euphoria with such a presentation. But we had to snap out of it – LA garage pop stars Fidlar were already on the Rama stage to a massive reception, and the giant cardboard figures of each of the members with glowing lightbulb eyes wasn’t even anything to do with it. It was great to see them on such a huge stage an ruling it – many times having seen them on smaller stages and owning them, it seems these guys have hit the big time now. And playing before their heroes Weezer, you could see the excitement in their eyes.
Given I wasn’t really here for the big names, it was back inside to see up coming act such as Hinds from Madrid and locals Summer Twins bringing the fresh and upbeat sounds to the excited punters. And it was totally worth it. It is such a privilege and opportunity for newer bands to be showcased by Burger, turning them towards an audience that are sure to lap up every second.
Coming towards the end of the night, with the big stage closing down for the night, it started to feel a little more relaxed and intimate inside the Observatory’s Constellation stage, which saw Burger poster-boys White Fang (who also morph into surf pop band The Memories at the drop of a hat) pull out all the lo-fi stoner rock jams to a crowd that was hanging on every line. It was a real rock and roll roller-coaster, with the drum kit in pieces by the end of the set, almost every member (at times attempting) crowd-surfing and owning the stage. Not a frown in the entire room.
Following that craze-parade was never going to be easy, and Aussie contenders Wax Witches were handed the baton. It was without speculation that a lot of people had gone home at this time, but Wax Witches took that in their stride. Presenting a set of pure bubblegum garage, defined really by Alex Wall’s snot nosed vocals and basic but catchy guitar lines, was enjoyable but a dramatic contrast to the circus that was White Fang. It’s without doubt that the Burger crew really love them, having released both their albums on Burger, but tonight it was unfortunately a bit flat.
Turning around the mood, and now finding the Constellation room a lot more relaxed than it was a few hours ago, the sweet sounds of Peach Kelli Pop were here to save our night, and send us home with a smile on our faces. Tonight here with a touring band of talented ladies, Peach Kelli Pop shined with a set jam-packed with sweet melodies, bubblegum pop and Kawaii cuteness. They even covered the Sailor Moon theme! What’s not to love! Anyway, it was then time to head home and get some rest before the massive day that Sunday was planning for us.