Review: Scarlet Symphony and Dirty Sweet; June 24, 2010; FLUXX, San Diego

FLUXX, downtown San Diego’s chic nightclub, held its first live event on Thursday, and it was a strange experiment. Instead of the typical DJs and dance music you might expect from the Gaslamp, they rounded up some ragtag indie bands to provide the night’s sounds. But it remained to be seen how the shiny shirt and hair gel crowd would respond to the fish out of water lineup.

After a set by opening act The Howls, local mainstays Scarlet Symphony took to the stage. The band unleashed a hailstorm of reverb, distorted bass, and tremolo-picked guitar on the crowd. Lead singer Gary Hankins writhed and genuflected, his billowing, belted vocals soaring nimbly above the mysterious music.

Many smaller venues struggle to contain Scarlet Symphony’s larger-than-life rock, but FLUXX’s open, spacious surroundings and classy decor were well-suited to the band. Their music exuded danger, like a pit bull kept on a leash that’s just long enough to scare the neighbors. The set ended on a bizarre, humorous note, with Hankins delivering a strobe-lit spanking to bassist Zachary Wheeler before dragging him to the floor by his shirt.

Headliners Dirty Sweet closed out the evening with their 70s-inspired blues rock. With their grooving bass riffs and snake-charming solos, they came across like a modern, LA version of Almost Famous band Stillwater. The band’s charisma was plain to see, despite FLUXX’s over-ambitious lighting guy shrouding them in a flickering light show designed to make unsuspecting epileptics in the crowd soil themselves.

Dirty Sweet’s thick riffs and pounding drums were effective, and Ryan Koontz’s distinct, high-pitched vocals were appropriately grandiose, but the group lacked the sincerity required to really sell the music. The group had the air of a band that decided to be rock stars first, then wrote their songs as a means to an end. None of Dirty Sweet’s well-executed but unmemorable songs felt like they needed to exist, and their performance lacked the urgency that made Scarlet Symphony’s set so exciting and primal.

Overall, the night proved an unsuspected success, and a nice change of pace for the commingled Gaslamp and hipster crowds. Despite being FLUXX’s first live show ever, the sound was mixed well, and the sprawling layout provided nothing but clear views of the stage. The monthly event seems like just the type of shake up that San Diego’s music scene needs. If future FLUXX live events are handled as deftly as this one, we’ll wonder how we ever got by without them.

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