Now into its sophomore year, Burgerama has already claimed its own clear and welcoming identity — this time with an extra day of festivities. The two-night hurrah combines bands and friends of the communal and humble Burger Records for a festival that serves Orange County kids and anyone else willing to enjoy seventeen or so hours of indoor rock bliss at The Observatory in Santa Ana. The festival vibe is different here — it is extremely compact, secluded, and the person next to you seems to know about half the audience. Everything is right in front of you at Burgerama and all it wants is to love you back.
A lot about Merchandise has evolved since its formation, but the addition of live drummer Elser Nino makes it apparent that their amplified live show is still a heavy preference. The band isn’t free of humor-wrought forgetfulness though. They left some guitar straps in their van, placing guitarist David Vassalotti in a sitting position until another band lent them one of their straps. Despite the mixup, Merchandise seemed comfortable. After MC James Quall of Tim & Eric: Awesome Show, Great Job (!!!!) introduced them to the stage, Carson Cox refuted Quall’s joke about calling their merch table “Merchandise Merchandise” and he reintroduced themselves as “Merchandisk”. They playfully demanded for Vassalotti’s guitar to be louder while loudness is not an obvious focus on recordings. Their presence was harsh and the some of material off their new record Totale Nite translated into a jarring display of saxophone and noise, but their set still felt welcoming in the way Merchandise’s music feels on record, where Smiths-friendly vocal deliveries and grand instrumentals are mixed together with a modern finesse.
Fuzz came out not fifteen minutes after Merchandise left the stage but took no time to let things get grimy. Any invested show goers unfamiliar with the name Fuzz quickly had their mouths and minds put at ease when Ty Segall and company trotted out some of Ty’s most sinister material yet, a lot of which had been unheard by most of us. This was a tough show for anyone to prepare themselves for considering their are only two recorded Fuzz songs currently around the internet, but that sort of made the pseudo-premiere of these new songs to be that much more exciting — a lot of which may appear on their upcoming album to be recorded in May. Sure, there’s nothing explicitly innovative about their music — it’s very Sabbath-reminiscent rock and roll, but the heart of Ty Segall’s performance power, even behind a drum set, is pretty stellar. Fuzz feels like that rock act you want to call your dad and rave about the next morning.
It’s hard to place The Pharcyde on a bill between a bunch of surfy Californian punk and rock bands and have it go unnoticed. The set focused on each song of their classic album Bizzarre Ride II The Pharcyde, which is over twenty years old now. The Pharcyde wants you to know that it’s been twenty years but their stage movement and antics only suggested maturity over aging. The youthfulness of that album still flows through them like it did in 1992, but there is an emphasis on how far they have come as displayed by letting one of their kids dance around on stage, soaking up every bit of love The Observatory had to offer.
Other bands took a heavier precedence in my mind after a simple viewing of their live sets, one being the notable Hindu Pirates, an extremely dynamic five-piece from Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa, CA. The immediate impression of these guys was standard — young, well-dressed, and they just happened to live by the beach. It’s an easy sort of act to write off without seeing a single track played, but song by song I was put in my place. Hindu Pirates have a type of live energy that exists in only a handful of contemporaries including The Strokes; their set was bluesy, brave, universal, and above all felt like they can naturally work and have fun together without any difficulty. Frontman Austin Ferreira ramped up his stage interaction with each track, eventually ditching the keys and testing how much energy he could empty out before their time was up. The way their songs were delivered left me more than pleased, but their infectious hooks and choruses moulded it all into one of the most memorable sets of Burgerama.
Bands like Gap Dream enacted some dusty, psychedelic beach-pop cooling off a crowd for the night to come — and considering forty bands were on the list for the two nights, it’s safe to assume you would be absorbing whichever stage The Observatory had to offer for hours into the evening. Burger Records made it pretty clear they were committed to getting the festival goers as much as possible, be it tons of bands or burgers and hot dogs on the packed outdoor patio (the food choice between the two was obvious).
Burgerama is a festival with an accepting and outgoing personality that permeates through each act and person watching. White Fang, a particularly funny slacker punk outfit from Portland, OR did some things Jack Black probably dreams he could pull off. They spoke in vague and bizzarre statements regarding their songs before playing them, which in turn rendered the songs to be unexpected punchlines. The silliness never stopped within tracks either — I ended up stepping away from the performance shortly to use the restroom and I returned to the bassist completely naked, awarding White Fang the award of “most visually spontaneous & absurd band of Burgerama”… at least for Friday.
Hunx & His Punx swept the main stage Saturday evening with a pretty bombastic and downright fun set. Decked in a leather jacket, sunglasses, and a backwards cap Hunx aka Seth Bogart fed the audience with on-stage playfulness antics and visually-loud showmanship, filling the time with plenty of notable moments. A girl voluntarily had her head shaved on-stage and three girls that managed to get up and dance with the band were then prompted into a stage-diving contest. Hunx even managed to fit in some flirting with The Observatory’s security guards.
White Fence brought things back to the less absurd with their set, which was louder and fuzzier than usual. Their stage presence was stark and looming, holding a fair amount of contrast to the silly, more ridiculous bands of the night. The volume of it all sent solid shockwaves through the venue and a merch table worker would find it difficult to not bob their head to some of White Fence’s more involved and hard-working jams. It was tough to not respect what Tim Presley’s psych-rock project had to offer to Burgerama in their second year performing, especially with how much thoughtful guitar work was breathed underneath the sheer mountains of chords from the other groups.
Crowd-surfer favorite King Tuff hit the stage next and produced a set that encompassed the fundamental ideals of Burgerama: loud, fun, and free music to get the kids to crowd-surf to. Kyle Thomas asked the crowd early on what their favorite band of Burgerama was to which many responded with “you” or “Fuzz” or “Hunx”. Thomas, in reply, decided to answer it too: “my favorite band is the guy cooking cheeseburgers out back.” Certain songs went harder than others, but regardless, the anthemic “Bad Thing” and “Strangers” were enough to shake any pretensions of the audience. This was definitely one for an OC kids’ Saturday night.
Ending things was Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, who took a surprisingly mellow and comfortable liking to The Observatory stage. Ariel Pink, known for his Coachella freakout and generally stand-offish live performances, felt far less on-edge than years past and definitely kept his volatile personality in check. Drenched in blue light for most of the set, the band played mostly cuts from Mature Themes and some past favorites like their cover of “Bright Lit Blue Skies” (unusually no “Round And Round” for a change). The way Ariel managed the mic and instruments became particularly interesting: guitar strapped on with the mic in hand whenever he needed to sing. It’s Ariel’s weird performance sensibilities that make his live act captivating; they ended the show with “Nostradamus & Me” and left the stage half-way through the song while it kept playing, leaving people to wonder if there was anything left. It was an odd note to end on, and definitely one that put a strange taste in the mouths of everyone there. On my way back to the car though, I could hear vaguely through the ringing in my ears people raving about the time they had and that they can’t wait for next year’s Burgerama. Add me to that list too.