Kyuss: Rocking hard again

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Reborn as Kyuss Lives with its old singer, drummer and bassist, the group of desert rockers reunited after an accidental get together last year. They’ll play the Fox Theater on Saturday and the Wiltern in November.

They were just teenagers out in the desert at the end of the 1980s, young dudes looking to make some noise with heavy guitars and heavier attitude. They became a hard-rock band called Kyuss, playing backyards and illegal all-night “generator parties” amid the canyons and sand dunes miles outside of Palm Desert and other nearby towns.

By the time Kyuss broke apart in 1995, the band had earned a dedicated cult following for its four albums of bruising “stoner rock,” despite no hits and little radio airplay. The sound was loud and atmospheric, as loose and formidable as a pile of boulders, and as soon as Kyuss was gone, fans clamored for a reunion.

It’s an epic story that now has an unexpected new chapter, with Kyuss’ former singer John Garcia, drummer Brant Bjork and bassist Nick Oliveri reconvening (minus guitarist Joshua Homme) as Kyuss Lives. The band has been touring for the last seven months, and plays Saturday at the Fox Theater in Pomona, and Nov. 18 at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles.


Any reunion was unlikely, especially once Homme formed Queens of the Stone Age, earning the kind of broad recognition (and record sales) that Kyuss never experienced. Homme always dismissed talk of reuniting his old band, which dissolved when he was 21.

“Kyuss was like a religion to us boys — that’s really what we were. I’ve had people say, ‘I grew up with Kyuss,’ and I always think, so did I,” said Homme, 39. “Kyuss had such a beautiful story, I’m always worried how you punctuate the final sentence.”

The other members seem to have found the right touch. “The music that Kyuss created has stood the test of time, and we’re living proof of that,” said Garcia, 41. “We can go out and still tour without having any new records at all, which is really amazing. We’re playing the size of venues double from where we left off.”

The tour is a result of an accidental reunion last year at Hellfest in Clisson, France, where solo projects led by Bjork, Garcia and Oliveri were booked to perform the same day. It was inevitable that they end up onstage together, as they did to perform the metal grind of “Green Machine” during Garcia’s set, billed as Garcia Plays Kyuss. It went so well that the trio made plans for a 22-city tour.

The three old friends gathered on a recent morning at Café 322, a nightclub in Sierra Madre owned by Mario “Boomer” Lalli, a central figure from the original desert rock scene. As bandleader and host, Lalli’s modest desert house in La Quinta was once a cultural oasis for young rockers, and the site of many live shows.

“There is a 98% chance that without that dude over there, there wouldn’t have been a Kyuss,” says Bjork, 38, nodding toward Lalli, who still performs in the band Fatso Jetson.

Bjork drove in from Venice, in long black curls and a handlebar mustache. Garcia was there with his wife and young son, and Oliveri was friendly and subdued with a shaved head and red Tutankhamen goatee. He handed out copies of his new four-song EP under his band name, Mondo Generator. On the cover, he’s depicted as a horned demon.

Filling Homme’s role as guitarist is Bruno “The Fever” Fevery, of Antwerp, Belgium, who already knew the material as a member of Garcia Plays Kyuss. “From the first couple of rehearsals, it was clear that we had a natural chemistry that went beyond celebrating the catalog,” said Bjork. “It didn’t take long for us to commit to moving into doing new material.”

Kyuss Lives hopes to record again by early next year, jamming during sound checks and sketching out song ideas on the tour bus. But at least one bleak obstacle looms on the horizon.

In July, Oliveri was arrested in connection with a four-hour standoff with a police SWAT team outside his Hollywood home, where the bassist allegedly barricaded himself with his girlfriend during a domestic dispute. He was charged with four felonies, including possession of a controlled substance with a firearm, and now faces 15 years in prison if convicted of all counts, police officials said.

Oliveri wouldn’t discuss the case, on the advice of his attorney, but expressed quiet regret for the interruption of what recently has been a positive time in his life and music. “It’s been very stressful, but I’m working through it,” Oliveri says, nodding slowly. “It’s step by step — I have to stay at it. It’s been tough.”

The incident meant he was forced to sit out some August dates overseas, replaced by Scott Reeder, who was Kyuss’ bassist after Oliveri quit the band in 1992. Oliveri is back on the road with Kyuss Lives for the current U.S. tour.

Homme has known Garcia and Oliveri since high school, and Bjork since he was 8. “I want to shout from the mountaintops: ‘Go get ‘em, boys!’” said Homme by phone. He begins recording a new Queens of the Stone Age album in October. “I’m stoked for them. I hope they ... blow your mind.”


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-- Steve Appleford

TOGETHER: Brant Bjork, left, John Garcia and Nick Oliveri have reunited as Kyuss Lives. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times