The Bay Area is ground zero in the annals of psychedelic music culture, and its dedicated denizens turned out in droves for a handful of tremendous shows in San Francisco last weekend. The temperature was mighty brisk, and the winds they were a howlin’, yet in the cozy confines of the always-rollicking Boom Boom Room, the space was getting hot. Friday night saw NOLA’s swamp funk phenoms The Iceman Special swarm the storied SF venue on the group’s first-ever West Coast run, dropping a blistering, iridescent performance before leaving town toting a gang of new devotees.
The quartet has established quite the wave in its celebrated Crescent City hometown, sending storm waters rippling throughout the Southeast in recent months. The band has jammed with a who’s who of heavy hitters in their local scene and nurtured a thriving community through its own quirky music and arts festival, Fete du Void.
This writer had the good fortune of experiencing The Iceman Special live several years ago at Sauvage Fest, a DIY front stoop throwdown that takes place outside the Jazz Fest fairgrounds, and then again in May 2022 at Daze Between‘s inaugural shindig at Fauberg Brewery. The squadron scorched the Campground Stage at Suwannee Hulaween last October, leaving charred remains strewn about Spirit Lake in their wake.
Now it was time for the burning shores of California to get a taste of what these dudes have on offer.
The group teamed up with TV Broken 3rd Eye Open for a jaunt up the coastline south to north and arrived in the Bay Area on the penultimate night of the tour. First off Friday night, a dynamite showing from TV Broken 3rd Eye Open, whose inspired performance set the tone for the evening. The seven-piece squad played to a teaming nightclub packed to the gills with enthused fans filling the dancefloor. The band trafficked in vibrant international soul sounds—big pop hooks, bright horns, wailing harmonica, and vocal harmonies galore. TV Broken 3rd Eye Open welcomed special guest guitarist/vocalist Katie Skene to the stage for much of its set. In essence, this band headlined the evening, they just performed first.
Meanwhile, Railroad Earth and Holly Bowling were wowing fans at the iconic The Fillmore across the street at the very same time. There was a whole lot of electric energy bubbling about that fabled intersection in the famed Fillmore district while NOLA’s new kids on the block patiently waited in the wings for their turn to soar.
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After two dozen more curious adventurers ambled into the Boom Boom Room post-RRE, at quarter after midnight the members of The Iceman Special assumed their onstage positions, each rocking a fluorescent orange feathered jumpsuit. The band looked plugged into a wall socket amid the multi-hued colorways courtesy of Mad Alchemy, whose liquid light show lit up the BBR in Day-Glo wonder. The group launched into a torrid set that stretched past two hours straight. Kicking off with a one-two haymaker of “Flatline” > “Tour Thru Ecuador”, the fearsome foursome seemed right at home in the celebrated city by the Bay, warm and cozy swimming in its psychedelic bosom.
The white-hot buzz band is made up of siblings Will (guitar, vocals) and Charly Murry (bass), Hunter Romero holds down the drumkit, with the elusive Steve Staples on lead guitar. The elder statesman of the krewe, Staples was surrounded by a preposterously huge pedalboard and could be found wailing away on his axe, way out on the wing stage left all night long. His trusty trio of comrades coalesced with demonstrative chemistry; they pushed the tempos and raised the temperature with reckless abandon. NOLA’s new prodigal sons (and maybe an uncle?) tore through nearly two dozen numbers with a measured confidence and searing ferocity.
The song titles were mostly new to this writer, but the focused intensity felt familiar. The Iceman Special makes precisely the brand of “Static Porn” I like to hear on my “Zydeco Radio” station. This brand of Bayou is “Deep Blues” diagnosed by “Dr. Chameleon”. Tune in to their “Pressure Pleasure” in “Stereo”, then “Let it Ring”. Drink up some of that “Lagniappe Love”, and ask “Dr. Dude” about the “Smokin’ Nurses”. Believe me when I tell you, one of ‘em is a total “Wig Splitter”. On the way out the door, pick up a prescription from the demented “Dr. Cosmos”.
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In addition to various imaginary medicinal practitioners, the feathered fellas gumbo’d together a cauldron of hard-driving dance grooves, intergalactic improv jams, shoegaze noise rock, slow’d ‘n’ throw’d doom metal dirges, punk’d up bombast, Floydian dreamstates, as well as healthy slabs of styles all their own. Myriad influences and lineages were apparent, ranging from Butthole Surfers and The Melvins to Jane’s Addiction, Sonic Youth, Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, and even a little 24-7 Spyz.
At the same time, The Iceman Special sounds like none of these bands. The group is clearly on its own trip, coloring way outside the stereotypical jamband lines with nary a f–ck given. The quartet graciously invited Adrian Johnson (harp) and Stewart Forgey (keys) of TV Broken 3rd Eye Open to get busy on a few different numbers, making for some inspired passages and creative connections that were likely born over the last week. As the evening wore on deep into the night, drummer Romero made sure the Cali kids got them a proper lesson in Lousiana-style “two steppin’,” to boot.
In just a couple of hours, these boys played a diverse smattering of original compositions, earning themselves a gang of new fans with humble confidence and unabashed verve. Keep your ears and eyes on The Iceman Special. These boys are “Roundin’ Corners” and headed for the next level. Friday night at the Boom Boom Room was living, breathing, elevating proof.
Setlist: The Iceman Special – Boom Boom Room – San Francisco, CA – 1/20/23
Set: Flatline > Tour Thru Ecuador, The Ruins, Losing your crazy, Static Porn, Zydeco Radio, Enemy, Pressure Pleasure > Stereo, Dr Chameleon, Ouroboros, Serpent, Lagniappe Love, Masquerade, Who Says > Wig Splitter, Deep Blues, Round Corners, Let it Ring, Dr Dude > Smokin Nurses > Fomo (no outro), Dr. Cosmos