By Dave Pehling
OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Now celebrating it’s fourth year, PRF BBQ West 2017 hosts an eclectic group of noisy, heavy bands from the Bay Area and abroad for three days of cutting-edge sounds and barbecued meats in Oakland this weekend. Founded by Benjamin Abraham and Conan Neutron (the former leader of local noise-rock outfit Replicator), the festival came together as a West Coast offshoot of an informal series of concerts/parties held by a loose collective of musicians and artists active on the Internet forum connected to Chicago’s Electrical Audio, the studio run by noted engineer and noise-rock icon Steve Albini (Big Black, Shellac).
Bringing together a group of like-minded experimental punk and metal bands exploring abrasive textures and complex time signatures, PRF BBQ West was held at Leo’s in Oakland for its inaugural year before splitting time between Oakland’s American Steel Studios and the Elbo Room in 2015. Last year, the festival took a bold leap by moving to the much larger Mosswood Park Amphitheater for Saturday and Sunday after opening with a club show on Friday night.
This year’s edition follows that format with the first evening’s festivities taking place at intimate Broadway music venue the Nightlight. A line-up of seven different bands will take the stage in the upstairs band room starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday night with an array of Bay Area acts including tuneful opening SF noise punks externs, East Bay acts including sludge-metal crew Flat Black, electronic experimentalist Bathysphere (aka Berkeley musician Trevor Bajus), Reptoid (the one-man project of former Reptilian Shape Shifters drummer Jordan Sobolew) and power-pop outfit Charmless.
Headlining the opening night will be dark electro-rock trio the Tunnel. Initially founded in 2009 as the stripped-down duo of Sam Black (bass/ electronics) and Jeff Wagner (guitar/vocals) using a drum machine for rhythmic backing, the pair mined a gothic vein of noise-punk sounds that nodded to Chrome, Bauhaus and Big Black. While the group would eventually start collaborating with live drummers on their studio albums, they still usually performed live with a drum machine. The addition of Porch drummer Michael Jacobs (who also plays with regular PRF BBQ participants Porch) has given the Tunnel’s stage show a new dimension, but since he is away on Porch’s current European tour, the Tunnel will be back in classic drum-machine mode.
The weekend shows will unleash a full eight hours of music (with free barbecue and two drink tickets included with admission) each day starting at noon at Mosswood Park, the space in Oakland that has hosted thousands the past several years for the summer Burger Boogaloo festival. On Saturday, Chicago noise-rock terrorists War Brides closes the show. Founded in 2010, the quartet has developed a sound built around corrosive riffs and howling guitars that recall the brute force and cathartic fury of Amphetamine Reptile acts from the ’90s like the Jesus Lizard, Cows and SF’s own Steel Pole Bathtub. The band will play songs from it’s latest release Regrets.
While he’s not the final band, Saturday’s biggest draw is undoubtedly the special solo set by Unwound founder Justin Trosper. One of the more influential noise-rock groups to emerge from the Pacific Northwest in the early ’90s, Unwound developed a devout following of fans over the course of over a decade together. Mixing post-hardcore aggression, jagged guitars and drummer Sara Lund’s complex math-rock rhythms on a celebrated string of releases for the Kill Rock Stars label, the trio toured extensively during the decade with like-minded acts such as Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Polvo and Deerhoof.
Though the band dissolved 2002, Trosper has remained busy with Survival Knife (a more traditional punk band with original Unwound drummer Brandt Sandeno) and the more experimental band Nocturnal Habits with Lund and others. Other highlights on Saturday include music from festival co-organizer Neutron and his amalgam of high-powered visiting players Secret Friends (featuring Tony Ash from Louisville, KY band Trophy Wives and Erica Strout from Motherf—er), East Bay prog/metal band the Mass and knotty Chicago noise-punk group Beat Drun Juel.
Sunday offers another full day of edgy entertainment. Closing the festival will be an unusual acoustic duo of Mike Morasky (best known for his work in seminal SF noise rockers Steel Pole Bathtub) and Noah Landis (keyboard player in Neurosis and a founder of ’80s punk band Christ on Parade) after sets from Ghost to Atom (a Oakland noise band reuniting to play its first show in six years), Missoula, Montana-based quartet Magpies and more. For information and tickets, visit the PRF BBQ West 2017 website.