In three-plus decades of chasing live music all over this great land, lespecial is unlike any band I’ve encountered thus far, past or present. Born and bred in the Northeast and friends since adolescence, the terrific trio has patiently yet steadily carved out their own lane of “heavy future groove,” defying genre and generation by leaps and bounds since 2005. They’ve done so by confidently coloring a bit beyond the limitations of expectations, deftly mining elements of metal, psych-rock, prog-rock, alt-rock, jam band improv, shoegaze, IDM, trip-hop, psychedelic bass, poly-genre mashups, and whatever their pleasure du jour.
The pride of Housatonic High School in Falls Village, CT, bandmates Luke Bemand (bass, synth), Rory Dolan (drums, samples, vocals) and Jonny G (guitar, keyboards, samples, vocals) finally ventured their way to the shores of the Pacific. The trio embarked on their first-ever West Coast tour in early March to rabid audiences wherever they roamed.
The two-week jaunt came on the heels of a successful collaboration with Mike Dillon (Fackn’ A) and a rowdy run through Colorado that included a sold-out engagement at Denver culture-hub Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom. The group played a few packed shows in the Pacific Northwest, then hit Reno, NV before setting out for their last headline hit of the run at the legendary Crazy Horse Saloon in Nevada City, CA. lespecial wrapped the short tour with a pair of dates providing direct support for Lyrics Born in Marin and Santa Cruz, respectively.
Your humble narrator spent a couple of years not-so-quietly campaigning for this band to play some gigs out here on the burnin’ shores of the Golden State. In spite of some harrowing, challenging weather systems doing their best to wreak havoc on the grand plan, I set out from Oakland to Nevada City on Thursday, March 9th, fighting five hours through copious sheets of rain and sleet to make lespecial’s long-awaited NorCal debut.
Yet, it should be duly noted that my trip from the East Bay to Gold Country could be considered child’s play juxtaposed to the band’s tortuous trek from Reno to Nevada City, which managed to take them nearly ten hours, instead of the usual two-and-a-half.
A tremendous amount of snow had fallen in the region earlier that week, closing roads, forcing detours, and making the band’s journey from Reno a wee bit hairy from jump. It didn’t help that they mistakenly were routed (and made it most of the way) to Chico, before a particularly rude awakening: the Crazy Horse in Chico was not the venue that booked their show. Wookie move!
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A comedy of additional snafus threatened to cancel the whole shebang, including—but not limited to—a brief power outage just before the band eventually arrived in Nevada City well after 10:00 p.m. Thankfully, the frontier-era mining town’s archaic electricity grid got its sh*t together upon the band touching down. Kudos to the lespecial crew (Coop and Chris) for delivering these boys safely after a treacherous, frustrating journey, then loading in and setting up in what had to be record time.
Lucky for lespecial, word had traveled to the locals—not only about their unicorn brand of kaleidoscopic sound-art, but the trials and tribulations they’d faced in transit thus far that very day. The crowd that packs out Crazy Horse show after show is a loyal, thirsty, dedicated bunch. This enthusiasm is thanks in no small part to the efforts of Tyler Blue, who steers the ship and buys the talent for the area hotspot. The buzz about this band was simply too strong, and the weather too gnarly, for the huddled masses to disperse from the spot. As such, they remained bellied up to the bar, steadily lubricating and incubating for a couple of hours. When the three gentlemen from lespecial finally took the stage just before midnight, the restless Nevada City natives were practically chomping at the bit.
The trio would summarily unleash nearly two straight hours of bombastically beautiful mayhem on the frontal lobes of the good folks who stuck around for the set, amply rewarding them for their patience early and often. After a brief warmup jam—in essence an onstage soundcheck—the band dove into several fiery renditions of standout tracks from its most recent full-length LP, Ancient Homies (2020). “Snell’s Fleet” brought Skeletor and the Castle Grayskull clique to the party in ganja country, unfurling chunky Machine Head meets snarling System of a Down, brilliantly bludgeoning the stunned souls stuffed inside the cramped saloon.
By the time lespecial worked its way through the serpentine opening salvo, people were reverberating wall to wall in a state of shock and awe. The glitched out guitar intro on “Repeater” gave way to Jonny G’s dreamy vocals, weaving an ethereal, melancholic theme into the space. The band quickly proved adept at harnessing the aggressive energy they’d just concocted and downshifting gracefully into something measured, melodic, and pretty. But even “Repeater” found its way into some Juno-bass jungle breaks before neatly segueing into a choice Ancient Homies joint.
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“Machine Elf” proffered yet another multi-hued composition in the lespecial quiver, an orgasmic dalliance of primordial drum and bass, OK Computer blips, razor-sharp riffage, and wake-the-town thump. Soon thereafter, “The Vessel” tapped into the deep-seated psychedelic roots embedded in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. lespecial was a long way from home but appeared mighty comfortable—and competent—in dealing mycelial serums to medicate the masses. Before anybody could get too high, they’d make a hard left towards syncopated brute power, like 2022’s standalone single, “Enter the Homieverse”. With this band, you learn real fast: keep that head on a swivel.
The rest of the show was a whirlwind case of jukebox schizophrenia delivered in atypically lespecial fashion. A bubonic take on old friend Yheti’s “A Little Goes a Long Way” split a fair share of wigs with aplomb, as did Nine Inch Nails “Into the Void”. A particularly faithful reading of NIN’s colossal 1994 hit “Closer” had the entirety of the Crazy Horse screaming out bestial urges to their loins’ delight, with Bemand’s elastic bass gymnastics powering the sordid industrial funk that washed over the now-heavily-imbibed fans.
Other late-set highlights included lespecial’s own panicked plea to save the rainforests, “Lungs of the Planet”, plus brief instrumental romps through the metal-on-mescaline of Tool’s “Schism” and the futuristic bounce of Aaliyah and Timbaland’s forever-lusty “Are You That Somebody?”, both sandwiched within older original “Fruit Wolf Dance”. The people stomped and roared to the hillbilly funk and stuttering come-ons of Primus’s “Tommy the Cat” (by the way, nobody does Primus better than lespecial).
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The torrid trio somehow summoned the pure evil required to properly detonate Slayer’s malevolent “Raining Blood” (which saw Jonny G sneak in a slick “Chalkdust Torture” tease and some quality Dave Lombardo-isms courtesy of Rory Dolan on the drums). Before all else was done and said, lespecial dropped “Enter Sandman” on our heads, which soon metastasized into Darude’s still-inescapable mall-techno earworm “Sandstorm”—like I said, head on a swivel.
As the stroke of 2 a.m. loomed, the boys began to bring this frenetic freight train into the station, albeit with reckless abandon and little care for anybody’s safety, even their own. The crown jewel of Ancient Homies, “Tonberry” was uncorked in the penultimate slot, revealed in all of its diabolical, devastating glory. Jonny G’s ten-ton sledgehammer hurled haymakers at anybody left standing in the joint as a circle pit broke out in the crowded dive bar (yes, you read that correctly, people legitimately started the moshing at quarter of 2 in the morning).
To add insult to injury, these fellas thought it appropriate to close out this long strange trip with their hydraulic interpolation of TNGHT’s “Bugg’n”, Hudson Mohawk and Lunice’s thunderous ratchet-bass banger from nearly a dozen years ago. lespecial was right on time with it, too, as almost all the fans stayed the course to the bitter end, bouncing off the walls and ceiling one last time before spilling out into the Nevada City night, high as f*ck on lespecial.
In spite of the wild weather and the wookie moves, things panned out rather swimmingly after all. I have no doubt these boys will be invited to return to NorCal just as soon as they can possibly make it back.