Live Review: Eric-Fest, San Francisco, CA, Feb. 20, 2016


“I’m going to be playing, pretty much, for the entire four-hour event,” chuckles a gray-bearded Scott McCaughey, founder of Seattle’s Young Fresh Fellows as well as the Swiss utility-knife of R.E.M. for years and years. And, except for a brilliant two-song set by a reconstituted Rain Parade and a fab, late-afternoon delight by Allen Clapp’s Orange Peels, McCaughey was as much an onstage fixture at San Francisco’s cozy Thee Parkside as Lincoln on Mount Rushmore.

The event was dubbed “Eric-Fest” by its organizer, the dynamic Kim Wonderley, lead singer for the Bay Area’s best-kept, power-pop secret, the Flywheels, whose debut LP will appear soon on Clapp’s Mystery Lawn Mountain imprint. Wonderley lost her dearest pal (and Flywheels’ co-founder), Eric Scott, to cancer late last year, and this afternoon’s free extravaganza has become a bubbling crock-pot of Scott’s friends, fans and relations. The pungent aromas created here must have wafted all the way past Ocean Beach into the Pacific Ocean as aftermath to the recent mega-surf competition held at Mavericks near Half Moon Bay.

Without anyone similar to late Fillmore Auditorium impresario Bill Graham to point at his wristwatch and keep things moving, the afternoon showed a few holes in the rug by lurching to a halt while no one was loading in or out. But once the tiny, two-foot tall stage was occupied by the Flywheels, the music was an absolute delight with material that ranged from the Jam’s “In The City” and the Kinks “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” to Jimmy Silva’s “Hand Of Glory” as well as the Flywheels doing their own “Hello Cruel World” and “Let Me Take You Down,” described by Wonderley as “the last song Eric and I wrote together.”

The Eric tribute also lured current Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken all the way from New Jersey to play alongside the band’s former bassist Mike Mesaros in an ad hoc, psych-pop outfit dubbed the Scott McCaughey Experience. “When I return to San Francisco these days, somebody in the Haight-Ashbury usually shouts out to me, ‘Hey, Jerry Garcia!'” says McCaughey, a Saratoga, Calif. native who opened the day’s second set with a brace of Kinks tunes, followed by debut R.E.M. gem “Radio Free Europe.”

Two decades after Jimmy Silva stumbled into Valhalla, his presence is still felt today. It’s no surprise since Scott and Wonderley were both members of Silva’s delightful final combo the Goats, and McCaughey and Silva had been musical collaborators since they were teenagers.

Special kudos are due today to a pair of iron-man performances by John Moremen and Gabe Coan. Silva’s onetime drummer, Moremen is now the lightning-fingered lead guitar of both the Flywheels and the Orange Peels, while Coan plays percussion for both. Other prime pinch-hitters are bassist Armistead Wellford from Athens, Ga.’s Love Tractor and Paul Whiting, keyboardist from vintage local mod outfit, the Hoovers.

A brief, surprise set by legendary Paisley Underground mainstays Rain Parade was the boysenberry on top of the sundae this afternoon, even though the former Angelinos’ hi-octane mix had a few little kids scurrying from the main room with fingers lodged in their ears.

Boiled down to the enduring essence of guitarist Matt Piucci and bassist Steven Roback, Rain Parade whipped through onetime set standards “Blue” and “No Easy Way Down” like nobody’s business. Once again they fulfilled Piucci’s prophetic remark from their 1984 performance at San Fran’s I-Beam when he described their work as “snake-charmer music.” Eric Scott once played live with Roback’s post-Rain Parade combo, Viva Saturn. The excellent drummer who accompanied Piucci and Roback today was a volunteer from the audience whose name remained unknown to Roback and Piucci, afterward.

As the late afternoon shadows lengthened into early evening, and the two-hour show began looking more like four, original Flamin’ Groovies vocalist Roy Loney took the stage to rip through a Teenage Head-era set of Groovies diamonds that never lose their cutting edge. The evening came to a roaring conclusion with another Silva-era band pointing everyone homeward. The nervous energy of the Grifters with McCaughey, flanked by original members Jim Hrabetin and Steve Cirelli, ignited one final burst from the crackling campfire before the embers were extinguished by the diehards left standing in a circle like a deleted scene from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, holding hands while papier-mâché owls hooted their approval in dusty cardboard trees overhead.

—Jud Cost; photo by Greg Smith