Live at Garden Amp

March 14, 2023 Review by Kevin Gomez
Mad Caddies are currently celebrating their 28th year by announcing several big shows. After playing Canada through all of February, they stopped by the Garden Amp in Garden Grove to play their second to last show, and the first of their Southern California dates. They brought along a slew of ridiculously talented bands that packed both the main stage and the indoors Locker Room, making it feel more like a ska festival.

The first band I caught on the main stage was the always-fun Half Past Two from right here in Orange County. Whether you are a diehard fan, or this is your first time seeing them, I’ve found it is literally impossible to not start dancing to the infectious grooves and ska beat they emit.

Opening with “Proximity” and “Chasing Light,” they then kicked off with a fun rendition of the “Malcolm in the Middle” theme song, “Boss of Me” by They Might Be Giants. They did a solid cover of The Killers’ “Smile Like You Mean It” with horns in place of keyboard from the original track. They closed their set with “Three Small Words,” from the “Josie & the Pussycats” soundtrack, with guest vocals by Madison Jones of Respite, a band who played right before in the Locker Room.
Other than the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, there aren’t a whole lot of accordions in punk music, but after seeing Piñata Protest live there’s a pretty good argument that maybe we need more. Combining punk rock with elements of traditional Tex-Mex music, these guys are non-stop excitement.

Lead singer Alvaro Del Norte jumps from the riser to the lip of the stage, accordion and all. Born in Mexico, Del Norte’s family moved to a border town in Texas. Normally all smiles and jokes, Del Norte got serious for a moment expressing his pride in where he grew up while introducing the next song, “Life on the Border.” Highlight of their show was when Del Norte asked the crowd the very controversial question: whether they preferred salsa roja or verde with their tacos; he split the crowd up based on their opinion and initiated a wall of death for the aptly titled “Salsa Wall of Death.”

If Half Past Two was the sugary sweet side of ska, La Pobreska represents the polar opposite: hardcore ska. Evoking elements of metal and hardcore punk with straight up upstroke ska songs, La Pobreska are some seriously talented musicians. There are so many members of La Pobreska that they outnumber the Wu-Tang Clan; they have more horn players alone than the entire band of Piñata Protest. But having two trumpeters, two trombonists, and a saxophone player just means that their horns came in that much flusher and illuminating.
Lead singer Manuel Nunez brings the same ferocity and intensity of a young Iggy Pop without the drugs, violence, or negativity. Featuring songs with the common theme of revolution, social injustice and politics. Singing mostly in Spanish the band played, “Fanatico,” “Resiste Lo Todo,” and “Shots Fired.” Whoever was working the lights during their set nailed it as flashing red and white lights seemed to highlight the heavy music as some of the gnarliest pits of the night opened up.

Other bands that entertained the crowd to a very cool beat include Chase Long Beach, Hooray For Our Side and Taken Days.
For those that don’t know, the Mad Caddies went through a shakeup last year in their lineup leaving just founding member, guitarist and lead singer, Chuck Robertson as the last original member. Not to fret, though, as he’s backed himself with often in-demand Sean Sellers (Good Riddance) on drums, as well as Brandon Landelius (Authority Zero, A Vulture Wake) on lead guitar.

They opened with “Lay Your Head Down” and the popular “Tired Bones” before playing their slowed down, reggae take on Green Day’s “She.”
Mad Caddies have always been able to blend effortlessly between the sounds of a third wave ska-punk band and a more traditional reggae band – such as playing the sped up “Leavin” followed directly by the slowed down “State of Mind.”

At one point Robertson joked that the band was changing its name to “Dad Caddies” as every single member of the band was a proud father. He dedicated the following three “OG” songs to all the hard-working mamas and papas out there and played “Contraband,” the pirate shanty “Weird Beard,” and “Villains.” After playing the wildly popular “Drinking for 11,” Mad Caddies were joined by Del Norte from Piñata Protest for a duet on “Coyote” to end their set. The band came out after a few minutes and played a new song that Robertson had penned entitled “Where Did You Run To?” They finished off the main stage with “Mary Melody,” and Robertson left the crowd with three short words: “Peace. Love. Respect.”
As a special treat to end the night, the venue’s smaller indoor stage, The Locker Room, featured a performance by Strung Out’s lead singer’s side project, Jason Cruz and Howl. Cruz has released two albums previously under this moniker. Make no mistake, although this is Cruz’s solo work away from Strung Out and though he plays acoustic guitar, this is not a solo acoustic act. It’s a full band of outlaw folk music – think Johnny Cash or Mike Ness’ solo project.

The band opened with the powerful “Celia” followed by “Blue Jesus.” Late last year, the band signed with Liars Club Records, which hopefully will mean new music in the works as it’s been nearly a decade since their last release. Cruz is always so passionate in his performances, and it was great to see a different side of him, one that got to show off his acoustic playing.
For me, one of the definite highlights of the 15-song set was being front row to see lead guitarist Chad Kulengosly absolutely shred song after song, solo after solo. It was the perfect way to cap terrific day of music.


by Robert Hale Images



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