It takes only a couple of dedicated people to build a music scene. If what they do is righteous and resonates, listeners searching for community will gather. If, like Burger Records, what they envision becomes reality, fans will pack clubs to pogo, slam, stage-dive and sing along.
As proved by the scrums of believers dancing at Saturday’s sold-out Burger a-Go-Go, a wild, celebratory, festival of girl punk centered on Fullerton’s electrifying Burger label and record store, they’ll share, support and spread the word. They’ll even help revive a dying recording format, the cassette, by buying tapes at five bucks a pop to play in the TEAC deck that Dad never threw away.
Starring a team of underground bands bent on injecting fresh fuel into catchy three- and four-chord power jams, Burger’s fest offered a deft, joyous, seamlessly delivered lineup of acts including Shannon and the Clams, the Coathangers, La Sera, the Muffs, Bleached, Dum Dum Girls and Best Coast. Each ripped through quick songs within quick sets on three different stages at the Observatory in Santa Ana and set the dance floors aloft.
That every band on the roster was fronted by a woman seemed both beside the point and exactly the point. Most rock festivals, after all, are default guy-rock gatherings, because fellas with guitars have run the scene, the biz and the studios. So a focus on the female perspective stands to reason.
But, then, judging by the massive Beyoncé gig up the 110 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (oh, and Jay-Z played too), women run pop music in 2014; they sell the records, top the charts and push the boundaries. The guys of Burger ran the risk of doing something patronizing -- no duh, girls rock -- but through spirit and taste delivered a big statement on gender, power and joy.
What connected most of the bands was a reverence for distorted guitar and cleanly delivered songs influenced by Brill Building, Motown and Phil Spector-esque Wall of Sound pop music, along with equal affection and inspiration from the Riot Grrrl and twee-pop scenes, as well as Southern California surf music.
Song by song, band by band they came. Peach Kelli Pop, the catchy, girl-group suggestive punk band fronted by Allie Hanlon, delivered verse-chorus-verse songs about love and heartbreak. The primal Coathangers, from Atlanta, offered a more menacing set, highlighting tracks from their new album, “Suck My Shirt.” Featuring swapped vocals from Julia Kugel (a.k.a. Crook Kid Coathanger) and drummer Stephanie Luke (Rusty Coathanger), the band delivered the most dangerous and aggressive set of the night -- and one of the best.
Scene figureheads the Muffs, led by rocket-fueled singer-guitarist Kim Shattuck, recently reconvened to release a new album on Burger, and the band performed selections of it and its much-loved ‘90s back catalog to fans who knew every word, and younger others first hearing the bridge that connects older acts with new headliners like the Dum Dum Girls and Best Coast.
Best Coast has quickly become a leader of the scene due to its way with a crowd and its way with hooks, both on display during its late-night fest-closing set, which featured both new songs and work from breakout albums “Crazy for You” and “The Only Place.” The Dum Dum Girls were less engaging. Though not without a certain dark, distorted charm that carried memorable melodies, the band struggled to connect with the crowd, one that had proved itself wide open to the other acts.
A hallway away, the smaller Constellation Room offered glimpses of a dozen-plus upstarts. The most promising was Feels, a new Los Angeles quartet formerly known as Raw Geronimo. Led by the assured, often electrifying hum of two strumming guitarists -- singer-guitarist Laena Geronimo (formerly of the Like) and rhythm guitarist and keyboardist Shannon Lay -- Feels pushed forth heavy, hard punk with more swagger than many of the acts on the main stage.
The best set of the night was by Shannon and the Clams, an Oakland group that blended doo-wop, smoky 1950s R&B, post-punk and rockabilly to create a weird, timeless American sound. The band, fronted by the seductive growl of Shannon Shaw (who also plays bass in Hunx and his Punx) and the sweet doo-wop falsetto of Cody Blanchard, traded vocals and songs that fed on echo low-end rhythm, with an instrumental vibe that hinted at classic Roy Orbison.
The song that best captured Saturday’s essence, though, was performed by Los Angeles band Bleached. Called “For the Feel,” the new work celebrates the bliss of creativity, of accomplishing something just because.
Backed by a guitar sound borrowed from the Kinks and a spirit that’s driven humans to create for centuries, singer Jennifer Clavin preached her gospel: “We’re not gonna waste our time! We’re doing what we like!” As hard rhythm guitar and steady back beat drove the song, she celebrated the philosophy of Burger a-Go-Go in one simple chorus: “We’re doing it for the feel!"
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit