Burnt Ones bring vintage Bolan beauty and girl-group drama to the Bay Area
MUSIC Of course they want to listen to T.Rex into the night. I've done it myself many times, and I'm sure plenty of you have devoted late-night marathons to Marc Bolan's musical mysticism. His lyrics, and his ridiculously long album titles from the early days of Tyrannosaurus Rex, always had a flair for weird wordplay, leaving the listener equally captivated and confused by lush, descriptive imagery. Bolan and his Tolkien-named percussionist Steve Peregrine Took started out playing the part of an enchanted underground acoustic duo, catering to fried-out hippies and London's latter-day mods at the notorious Middle Earth Club. But I have a feeling that when San Francisco's own Burnt Ones pledge "Gonna Listen To T. Rex (All Night Long)," they're referring to Bolan's full-blown boogie period during the heyday of T. Rex-tasy. The song's opening guitar lick sears every bit as much as the one in "Buick Mackane," but of course it's not nearly as recognizable.
This isn't to say Burt Ones don't borrow from Bolan's early days of drone-zone bliss. "Burnt to Lose" closes the A-side of their debut album Black Teeth & Golden Tongues (Roaring Colonel Records) on a slow note. The track is full of chant-like vocals and finger-symbol sounds that a yoga instructor might use to commence a class. The tune hints at the atmospheric qualities of "The Children of Rarn" off the 1970 album T. Rex, where Bolan had by then calculated an abbreviated name for his band and added a full rhythm section, including new drummer Mickey Finn.
"Sunset Hill" is every bit as upbeat and fuzz-tone driven as its Visconti-produced predecessor, "Metal Guru" from 1972's critically acclaimed Slider, and "Bury Me in Smoke" is straight out of the '70s with its use of ooh-la-la backing vocals. Let's face it, lead singer Mark Tester sometimes sets out to duplicate Bolan's trademark warbled and often shaky vocal technique. But while the four-piece psych outfit, who found their way to the Bay Area by way of Indianapolis, has a glam-rock shtick that would make Gary Glitter proud, Burnt Ones also draw from other sources of inspiration.
"Bring You All My Love" gives a nod to the girl groups of the early '60s and is reminiscent of the Shangri-Las' 1964 hit "The Leader of the Pack", where an echoed "down, down" response vocal is employed. Though "Famous Shakes" song should not be confused with a Wall of Sound production, the influence of Phil Spector and his layers of instrumentation is clear. Lyrically, the group revisits the nonsensical chorus of the Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron", and even explores territory commonly conquered by soul troopers, most notably Wilson Pickett's "Land of A Thousand Dances", where a catalog of past dance crazes (i.e. the mashed potato, the twist, and the alligator) are shouted out in remembrance and paid tribute.
Simple in design, the packaging of Black Teeth & Golden Tongues is consistent with Burnt Ones' sound, in that it dips into the past while incorporating contemporary art. The pastel-colored cover is adorned with a cartoon of a cracked skull drawn by William Keihn, who some may recognize as the artist from Thee Oh Sees' album covers. On the back side we're reminded of two iconic Stones' albums, Exile on Main Street and Some Girls, which perhaps coincidentally sandwiched the glam era, with release dates of 1972 and 1978. "Spins" even has a bluesy Keith Richards riff.
As much as Burnt Ones rely on the past, it's easy to forget that this band is pretty much new and likely aims to be part of the pantheon of Bay Area lo-fi, psych, and garage rockers. The group's contemporaries include Hunx and His Punx, who updates the tried and true androgyny and gender-bending nature of glam by updating it to serve his own homoerotic needs. Burnt Ones' "Soft City" is a well-produced number that displays a kinship with Hunx's teased vocals as it confronts topics such as saved souls and the cold outdoors.
With Pierced Arrows, Bare Wires
Fri/22, 8:30 p.m., $12 (all ages)
155 Fell, SF