Photo: Cybele Parsignault
It was almost all wrong from the initial countdown to the launch. Conceptually, Orange County, California, was created to isolate decent, god-fearing folks from the likes of Dave Wyndorf’s ancestors. “Keep them hairy beatniks far, far away from us, please!” It’s only now, in 2018, when the music has such little impact on anything cultural, that a group that once toyed with the “drug rock” moniker can slip past the Orange Curtain without the church-going security patrol going slightly bonkers.
By the time we roll up to The Observatory, a venue surrounded by corporate burger joints and office parks filled with corporate mouths to feed, we had to wonder if even the mighty psychedelic biker-rock of Monster Magnet could survive these bland surroundings, or would the guys simply trudge along, heads down, and merely hope to get outta here without suffering a bummer of galactic proportions.
The feeling continued as we were herded not into the spacious, near-enormo-arena-sized-rocktropolous Main Hall, but a pitiful antechamber … the extremely underwhelming Constellation Room. It’s not quite clear how the universe can or could be viewed in such a basic bar-and-platform performance space, with bare black walls to facilitate infinite boredom, but maybe those drinks were in fact strong enough for patrons to see stars. I don’t know. I wasn’t imbibing.
In such a meagre setting, few bands could or would even attempt molecular-level magic, but Monster Magnet are clearly made of strong stuff. Wyndorf, surrounded by cohorts Phil Caivano and Garrett Sweeney on guitars, the Atomic Bitchwax’s Chris Kosnik on bass, and drummer Bob Pantella, begins the Big-Time Cosmic Circus with a ride to the outer limits with the seismically lurching “Dopes to Infinity,” and suddenly, wonderfully, the clouds part, and an entire room of folks who seconds ago were wondering why the fuck they left the comforts of home for a shit night in Santa Ana are gracefully lifted to a place where the bongwater flows like Niagara Falls, and every issue of Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella is yours for the asking.
The set finds the group mixing in the hi-octane Detroit/MC5 sound of tracks from new platter MINDFUCKER with its stoner classics, both expected and otherwise. Wyndorf knows he can’t leave out his POWERTRIP calling-cards, but neither does he ignore his Satanic-drug-thing roots. Whipping out their valentine to Captain Beyond, Monster Magnet’s “Twin Earth” sounds better now than it did twenty years ago, and “Dinosaur Vacume” finds the band paying tribute to huge influence Hawkwind by throwing several bars of “Brainstorm” into the mix, with Kosnik lovingly re-creating Lemmy’s thunderous bass runs.
Fully tripping now, Magnet guide our high to the limits with one great song after another: “Look to Your Orb For the Warning,” we’re cautioned … a “Negasonic Teenage Warhead” attack is imminent … guided by a “Space Lord” with a “Spine of God,” on a full-on (you guessed it) “Powertrip.” It’s only after each one of the songs is played that we all realize that all of us are still rooted to the ground in a featureless bar.
But that’s not the band’s fault. Let some other upstart group with young blood pumping blow down the doors of this joint. With Monster Magnet entering the victory-lap portion of their career, it’s enough for them to merely dose the punch and laugh about it, once safely aboard the bus to the next town.