Hard rock and heavy metal are not the same. They are often joined at the hip by outsiders, but to the true fan they are as different as Pantera and Britney Spears. Not to mention the fact that metal has been subdivided into a large number of genres. That said, any scene takes key elements to maintain: quality bands, fans, venues with pitiless sound systems, and neighbors that don’t mind. San Diego has all four. Consider that our notable hard rock and metal past (Jake E. Lee, Ratt, and Stone Temple Pilots to name a few) has made San Diego a farm team for the majors.
1130 Buenos Avenue, Linda Vista
The supply side of hometown head-banging is strong. Clay Hackett drums behind the Suicide Chords, possibly the only romance-metal band on record. “There are many good bands to go around. The problem,” he says, “is oversaturation due to venues closing.” In that respect, the year’s big news thus far is the loss of Brick by Brick.
Guitarist Anthony Lococo of Deeper Purple, a Rainbow tribute, put that into perspective: “If the Brick goes away, that’s the end of the rock and hard-rock scene in San Diego.” He may be right. Other clubs book a variety that includes some metal and some hard rock, but Brick management positioned the shop as all things head-banger. They closed in January. This closure may be short-lived. A cryptic message on their web page says the venue is planning to reopen after Memorial Day.
1271 University Avenue, Hillcrest
“Some of the promoters that used to plug shows into the Brick have moved to the Merrow. Shiloh Nabors-Bloxton runs sound and books shows at the venue formerly known as the Ruby Room. The new name, he explains, refers to a mermaid. “If bands want to bring in a bunch of gear and crank it up to 11, I say go for it.”
3048 Midway Drive, Midway District
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
The Shakedown likewise has scored from the surplus of hard rock and metal action. Along with Tuedsay night’s Underground Metal Nights, promoters claim to stage 10 to 15 such shows there per month.
1055 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
With the loss of the 1500-seat concert house at 4th and B in 2012, House of Blues remains the last man standing in the Gaslamp. HOB is the only venue of size enough to draw premier touring acts such as Marilyn Manson to the downtown area.
8528 Magnolia Avenue, Santee
Across town, don’t be fooled by the strip-mall-sandstone exterior. Inside, Second Wind Santee packs a generous stage and a sound system faithful to the black T-shirt crowd. “East County,” says Catfish Comstock, “is a little more rock-and-roll-oriented.”
But over on the demand side, the numbers are lessening. What became of the hard-rock audience in general is anyone’s guess. One thing is certain: they aren’t clubbing as much, and musicians are noticing.
“It’s not what it used to be, in terms of having a core audience that goes to shows no matter who is playing.” Comstock plays guitar in Dive Bomber, a hard-rock outfit fronted by a man who paints himself from head to toe. “Those types just aren’t showing up anymore.” And that makes San Diego less desirable to some mid-size touring acts. “The kinds of bands that used to come here and book shows at places like Dream Street [the nightclub closed in 2011], those bands are still having a hard time finding venues to play.” The exception, he says, is SOMA. “They cater to sub-genres, but judging by the lines going around the place, it’s looking pretty good there.”
3350 Sports Arena Boulevard, Midway District
SOMA curates an all-ages nu-metal and metalcore scene. Erin Sandburg-Paul says that’s been one of their most successful draws in the past decade. She points out that Mission Bay’s best-selling Pierce the Veil, now on a world tour, sculpted their screamo Mexi-core sound at the venue.
1660 Capalina Road, San Marcos
The Ramona Main Stage became a glide path for the survivors of classic and hard rock’s golden years. Recent concert bills featured Uli Jon Roth, Michael Schenker, and the Lynch Mob. To the north, the focus has gone back to local bands at the Jumping Turtle. Owner Matt Hall says the Turtle stages a variety of acts. “But the majority of music that comes through here is rock in all forms, like blues, hard rock, and metal.” Not so much the tribute bands anymore: “There are plenty of places for them to play. I try to keep it 98 percent original music.”
Ask some local hard-rock musicians who among the current field of homegrown metal and hard-rock units they go out to see, and names come up such as One Theory, Unicorn Death, Psychothermia, Weight of the Sun, Squirrelly Arts, Old Man Wizard, Blood Dancer, tributes like Madman and Rushed, and RDG, guitarist Raymond DiGiorgio’s instrumental prog trio. “They are an example of older musicians that people should look up to,” says Clay Hackett of the latter. The same could be said about Mower, a local hard rock–punk fusion.
“There’s good bands coming out of San Diego,” says Mower vocalist Brian Sheerin, “that are still doing well. There’s more grindcore. Maybe the kind of metal you and I grew up on is not that interesting anymore. Some of the metal stuff that’s gone, well, maybe that’s a good thing. That’s not to say it won’t change. Like anything else, it all comes back around. What’s old becomes new again.”
For example, consider the onetime singer/front man Rick Reed of Del Cerro. He got a deal with an Orange County–based record label to reissue some of the songs he wrote and recorded with Child. They were a late ’70s San Diego hard-rock unit that lapsed into obscurity. In November, Reed told the Reader that he got a call from a startup label in Orange County called FB5 Records. “They had collected some of my old Child stuff.” He said FB5 was planning for a release date later this year. The working title: We’ll Be Right Back.