SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Two leading exponents of experimental rock in the greater Bay Area team up this Saturday when SF heavy krautrock trio Terry Gross and Santa Cruz psych explorers Mammatus play a free outdoor show near Oracle Park.

Terry Gross (Leon Press)

Contrary to what one might expect from a band named after the unflappably calm NPR interviewer, Terry Gross bashes out a bruising, kinetic style of krautrock-influenced groove displayed on their debut recording Shameless Imposter, a two-song 10″ vinyl EP released on Valley King Records in 2018.

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Featuring the six-string heroics of noted local guitarist Phil Manley (Golden,Trans Am, the F–king Champs, Life Coach), Terry Gross came together three years earlier when Manley started playing with his El Studio co-owner, bassist Donny Newenhouse (Film School, Hot Fog, Buffalo Tooth). The split of Newenhouse’s band Peace Creep with talented drummer Phil Becker (Pins of Light, ex-Triclops! and Lower Forty-Eight) and Triclops!/Anywhere guitarist Christian Eric Beaulieu led to some informal jam sessions with Manley and the rhythm section at the studio, sparking the new project.

Digitally recording their freewheeling improvisations at El Studio, the trio began developing its unique chemistry that found the musicians exploring hypnotic extended grooves that at times recalled the droning motorik workouts of German rock experimentalists Can and Neu, but with the added heft of modern rock titans like the Melvins.

Terry Gross started playing live shows on both sides of the Bay, sharing stages with the likes of Big Business, reunited Oakland favorites Drunk Horse and Hot Lunch and establishing a reputation for dealing out their unusual style heady, muscular extended tunes.

Manley’s connection with indie label Thrill Jockey — which had released albums by Trans Am and Life Coach — led the trio to a record deal. Using their studio as an editing tool much in the same way Can would piece together its songs by drawing from raw recorded material, Terry Gross distilled its best sonic exploration into the three sprawling tunes heard on it first full-length album, Soft Opening.

Terry Gross plays it’s first show since the release of the album at this free concert with Santa Cruz heroes Mammatus. Founded in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 2005, the heavy psych outfit has evolved dramatically from its riff-rocking, robe-sporting early days playing house parties and dive bars.

The group’s founders — Emmert brothers Nicky (guitar) and Aaron (drums) — had played together in earlier projects before teaming with bassist Chris Freels and second guitarist Mike Donofrio. It was the influence of Freels that led Mammatus to start adding elements of Bay Area experimental punk and doom acts like Neurosis and Sleep to their already lumbering Sabbath/Zeppelin riffage.

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Quickly embraced as part of an established Santa Cruz neo-psych scene that included such notables as Six Organs of Admittance, Comets on Fire and Residual Echoes, Mammatus recorded a demo that soon had the band signed to deals with San Francisco-based Holy Mountain Records and British imprint the Rocket Record Company.

The band’s eponymous debut and follow-up effort The Coast Explodes both showed off a sludgy, bludgeoning approach to epic psychedelia that was augmented live by the band’s wizard costumes, burning incense and an auxiliary staff-wielding member/mascot. The band toured the states with like-minded groups such as the aforementioned Residual Echoes and Japan’s exploratory psych legends Acid Mothers Temple. But before long, Mammatus would go on an extended hiatus as band members settled into having jobs and families.

Finally returning as a trio with the departure of Donofrio, in 2013 Mammatus released Heady Mental through the Spiritual Pajamas label. The experimental album introduced new aspects to their sound, building songs around Emmert’s extended finger-tapped arpeggios (think Eddie Van Halen guitar pyrotechnics meets minimalist composers Terry Riley and Phillip Glass) and adding Tangerine Dream style drone to the mix.

The band’s new ambient/prog approach was hailed by critics and the band would be invited to perform at festivals like 2015’s stoner/doom celebration Psycho California. Mammatus would issue its most recent effort, Sparkling Waters, that year. Recorded with Phil Manley, the album continues the group’s exploration of shimmering drones and extended progressive psych on its four 15-20 minute plus tracks, this time echoing Brian Eno’s ambient work while still delivering plenty of head-nodding rock grooves.

While the group has largely been quiet of late — they haven’t played San Francisco since appearing at the Subliminal SF’s “Electric Kool-Aid BBQ Test” at the Bottom of the Hill just over three years ago — there has been some band activity. In 2018, guitarist Emmert released Eminent Blade, a collection of languid solo guitar recordings that mirrors the ambient approach of the band’s latter era. More recently, Mammatus has been releasing archival demos and unreleased material from throughout its career. The band played it’s first Santa Cruz show since 2018 last month. This free, BYOB outdoor show held on Bluxome Street just blocks from Oracle Park will be socially distanced with masks encouraged out of COVID concerns.

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Terry Gross and Mammatus
Saturday, Aug. 14, 3 p.m., Free
63 Bluxome Street