By Dave Pehling

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the early exponents of stoner rock returns to the Bottom of the Hill Saturday when SoCal greats Nebula are joined by beloved local heavyweights Hot Lunch and rising Oakland hard-rock favorites Psychic Hit to help the venerable venue celebrate it’s 30th anniversary.

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Guitarist Eddie Glass and drummer Ruben Romano made up half of the seminal line-up of SoCal stoner quartet Fu Manchu on the band’s first three albums, including the landmark third record In Search Of… before Glass and Romano split from the group in 1997 to form Nebula. Joined by bassist Mark Abshire (who had played with Fu Manchu and guitarist Scott Hill’s early hardcore punk band, Virulence), the power trio mined a similar but more expansive style of heavy psychedelia on its early EPs for Relapse Records and Man’s Ruin.

Those recordings and a growing popularity from regular touring led Seattle-based label Sub Pop to sign Nebula. The band’s muscular, mind-expanding debut for the imprint — To the Center — was produced by noted Northwestern studio guru Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Zeke; more recently High on Fire and Windhand) and featured Mudhoney’s Mark Arm singing on a cover of the Iggy and the Stooges song “I Need Somebody.” The trio continued to refine it’s howling take on the Blue Cheer/Stooges template the Sub Pop follow-up Charged and 2003’s Atomic Ritual recorded with Masters of Reality guitarist Chris Goss.

Glass would cycle through a number of bandmates as time went on with Abshire departing after the recording of Charged and main songwriting collaborator Romano leaving in 2007 prior to the trio signing a deal with Tee Pee Records, who released Nebula’s last album in 2009. The following year, the threesome decided to take an extended hiatus with Glass citing the wear and tear of regular touring as the impetus for a long break.

It wouldn’t be until 2017 that Glass would contact latter era bassist Tom Davies about possibly reconvening the band to write new music. Bringing Blaak Heat drummer Michael Amster onboard, the group began playing around Southern California and elsewhere, including an appearance at last year’s Stoned and Dusted Festival in Joshua Tree and the SF and LA dates of the Heavy Psych Sounds Fest in May organized by the label of the same name. Heavy Psych Sounds also released the band’s first new album in a decade when it issued Holy S–t two summers ago to solid reviews. Earlier this year, the group put out a new live recording as part of the Stoned and Dusted Festival’s pandemic concert series filmed in the Mojave Desert and released on vinyl, CD and blu-ray.

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For this return to the Bottom of the Hill Saturday, Nebula will be joined by local heavy rock juggernaut Hot Lunch. A force on the San Francisco underground scene for going on 15 years, Hot Lunch was founded by singer Eric Shea after the split of his potent retro-rock outfit Parchman Farm in 2006. Shea managed to put together an all-star quartet of talented players, including former Mensclub guitar hero Aaron Nudelman and the pulverizing rhythm section of drummer Rob Alper — ex-The Sermon (he also played guitar with Sacto garage-punks SLA) — and bassist Charlie Karr, who was best known for his work with the Alternative Tentacles band Harold Ray Live in Concert.

Hot Lunch soon became a fixture in SF clubs with their fiery live performances and expanded their audience with the eventual release of the group’s self-titled debut in 2013. Unlike the many acts who do little more than mimic the sonic template of influential early ’70s proto punk/metal bands like Blue Cheer, Grand Funk Railroad and the MC5, Hot Lunch wove in elements of skate punk, psychedelia and prog rock into their unique sound.

Issued on independent German label Who Can You Trust? in Europe and Tee Pee Records stateside, the album led to sponsored recordings and concert appearances for Scion A/V and Converse, considerably raising the band’s profile. Over the next few years, the quartet issued a number of singles and EPs, including the five-track Scion A/V collection Slappy Sunday that was released for free download in 2015 and a 45 featuring the new tracks “Haul of Meat” and “Pot of Gold” last year. In 2019, the band announced plans to release its appropriately titled sophomore album Seconds on Tee Pee Records in March.

Expanding the group’s sonic palette, the effort finds Hot Lunch embracing an ever-widening dynamic range with the haunting middle section of “Smoke Ring” and the sprawling prog epic of album closer, “Skulled to Neptune.” But fans of the group’s burly proto-punk attack will be pleased by the hefty crunch of “Human Reissue” and the energetic fury “Black Angel’s Curse” kicks into following Nudelman’s acoustic introduction.

The band went through a seismic change shortly after the album’s release with two members moving out of the Bay Area as Shea relocated to Georgia for his job with online radio station Pandora, while Alper ended up in Tuscon, Arizona. Despite the obstacles presented by half the band departing the region, Hot Lunch seems more intent than ever to continue developing the band’s unique approach to heavy music.

Opening act Psychic Hit is an Oakland band featuring members of several notable prog, psychedelic punk and space rock bands including Queen Crescent, Pins of Light, Nik Turner’s Hawkwind and Ovvl. The group has build a solid buzz with its blistering live shows and a sound that draws on classic Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy as well as early Scorpions and Judas Priest while injecting an element of expansive prog rock to great effect. Earlier this year, Psychic Hit released its debut EP Solutio through Seeing Red Records that quickly sold out of the vinyl edition. DJ Sasquatch Borracho spins heavy sounds before and between bands. Please note that in accordance with San Francisco COVID protocols, proof of vaccination and masks indoors will be required.

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Nebula, Hot Lunch and Psychic Hit
Saturday, Sept. 18, 8:30 p.m. $13-$15
Bottom of the Hill