dredg @ The Catalyst Club, Santa Cruz CA 09/15/06
Made the trip out to the lovely college town of Santa Cruz to see dredg at the Catalyst Night Club, a famed venue for hosting underground acts with large, cult followings. dredg is no exception. dredg is one of those special, talented groups that’s within a class of its own, and for some frustrating reason, recognition and fame continue to escape them. Some history: Their only big opportunity for exposure was a performance on the Jimmy Kimmel Show in 2005. That album (Catch Without Arms) should have been BIG, however, dredg continues to be one of those well kept secrets of modern rock. It was on the Catch Without Arms Tour that I got to witness dredg live, and it one of the most thrilling live gigs I’ve ever experienced. This was a special 1-off show to celebrate their second album, El Cielo, which I pretty much fell in love with white attending college. I heard this CD playing at Irvine’s Wherehouse Music Store in 2001 or 2002. It was ambient sounding rock, celestial sounding thanks to that guitar player of theirs. And the drums were killer, the singer literally soared above all the instrumentation, and the songs were artsy but catchy! I bought a copy of El Cielo without even thinking twice. I happened to know one of the staff members at Wherehouse, Jesse. He was a fellow student and we lived in the same campus residential area. He told me the band’s story up to that point, and agreed that they should be “the next big thing.”
Fast forward to 2005 and the follow-up album gets released and those songs were just as compelling as the material on El Cielo. I saw the Kimmel performance and knew I had to see these guys live. The following year 2 special shows are announced for the Catalyst in Santa Cruz. The first night the band would showcase their debut album, Leitmotif, in its entirety, along with a handful of newer songs. Night two would be the “El Cielo” night. My favorite CD would be performed in it’s entirely. I was giddy. I arrived early and made my way to the front of the venue. As I rounded the corner I could hear the group sound checking. They were rehearsing “Same ‘Ol Road,” a key track off El Cielo, and already I could feel the goosebumps. The Catalyst is situated in the quaint, downtown area of Santa Cruz. It was clean, green, and relaxed in that area. People were friendly and the weather was great. I had made this trip alone. As fate would have it, I was in line behind this kid, a fellow Dream Theater fan and forumer, Angra1. I cannot recall for the life of me how we sparked up our initial conversation. But we learned that we were both DT forumers and we were familiar with each other’s web posts thanks to that online community. It was weird, yet cool. It was like we already had this pre-established, ready made camaraderie.
We waited a good hour or so before doors opened. Angra1 was heading to the balcony for an overhead view. I was going to brave the pit area grab a spot in the front row, stage right. Dredg shows have a reputation for having rough crowds, especially the front rows. First I headed to the merch table for a T-shirt. I was wearing a Morrissey shirt this night and the girl working the merch table complimented it, in fact it landed me a $5 discount. Score! I head to stage right and nestle myself in the far corner. I’d be more or less directly in front of guitarist Mark Engels, practically in arms reach. The crowd gathers and the place appears sold out. A couple drunk kids try to push their way to the front of the stage, behind me. A girl in the row behind me saw what was occurring. She said “oh no…f*ck that. You guys aren’t getting up here!” And she proceeded to use all her weight to thrust these 2 jerks back where they came, they almost fell over. My jaw dropped, I was impressed. They didn’t try to push their way up again. Talk about passionate fans 🙂
The show begins, and opening act Portugal the Man take the stage and treat us with 30 minutes or so of their Alaskan flavored Indie rock. After their set, the houselights go down. The crowd is tense and waits in anticipation, then the lights go up and band come onstage to a deafening roar from the crowd. It was surreal, seeing one of my favorite groups in the flesh, taking their places, and getting ready to reproduce the magic that’s on CD. They launch into 3 tracks from the new album, Catch Without Arms, and this trio of songs sets the tone well. “Ode To the Sun,” “Bug Eyes” and the lovely but powerful “Jamais Vu” hypnotize the crowd and get our heart rates racing. The crowd was going berserk. Singer Gavin Hayes was belting out his lines, soaring above the equally melodic bass and guitar parts. Dino Campanella on drums was slammin’ it, playing those technical yet grooving drums parts with ferocity. He looked like he was spazzing lol. He’s very animated when performing, rarely sitting still, and raising his sticks well above his head when laying down beats. What looked like chaos was in fact orderly, deliberate and powerful. And during “Bug Eyes,” Campanella awed us by performing drums AND keyboards at the same time. With his right hand, Campanella layed down the groove on the high-hat and snare, while his left hand fingered the melody line to the bridge of the song.*bows down to Dino Campanella*
The lights dim again and the intro to “Same Ol’ Road” begins, signaling the transition to the El Cielo album. We go crazy all over again. The show was stellar, beyond stellar. The mix was perfect, and each band member was in the zone and having fun. The entire El Cielo album was performed in epic fashion. It was like each song sparkled. Mark Engles produces a one man wall of sound, much like The Edge of U2. Like I wrote before, it’s celestial sounding. Drew’s bass playing throbbed and grooved, and rarely does a bass player have “emotional” sounding parts, but dredg’s music has that. Gavin Hayes’ singing was in great form, in fact, the songs sounded better live. This show was a milestone in this group’s career and I was very grateful to be a part of it.
Epilogue: Some months later dredg did a few record store meet and greets in California to promote the release of their new live CD, Live at the Fillmore. I attended the LA meet and greet at Rhino Records in Claremont. Not only did we get treated to a brief, semi-unplugged performance, but we also got to meet the band and got some autographs. I had my El Cielo CD and a Vater 5A drum stick. My first interaction was with singer Gavin Hayes. It sounds silly now, but I was actually a little starstruck. I shook his hand and I think I complimented the recent tour and Catalyst shows. Honestly, I can’t remember what the hell I said. All I remember was Gavin smiling…and then I laughed like Elmer Fudd. I regained my composure when I reached Mark Engels. He held my El Cielo CD and said “wow what a great litte package (referring to the cardboard gatefold packaging), it’s too bad they couldn’t all be like that.” He thanked me for my compliments and shook my hand. The other guys were cool too. I got a couple pictures with them and i was a happy camper. An ecstatic camper. If only Jesse from college could have seen this. It’s great that a group can be accessible in this fashion. I have fond memories of both the concert and the meet and greet, those autographed items are still hanging on my wall. I hope this band breaks out in a big way, they’re more than deserving. FYI, there are AMAZING bootlegs of this show in circulation, on audio and video.
a view from the back of the venue, 09/15/06. I’m in the front row, far right