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Halloween Meltdown takes over Oakland's Mosswood Park

OAKLAND -- The second annual Halloween Meltdown brings an avalanche of garage-punk bands and host John Waters to Oakland's Mosswood Park with performances by Amyl and the Sniffers, Shannon and the Clams and much more.

The Mosswood Meltdown featuring marquee acts Bikini Kill, former Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon, Detroit garage-rock giants the Dirtbombs, SF punk pioneers Flipper and a host of others made a glorious return to the park back in July, drawing thousands of fans to the park. Total Trash is continuing its newfound tradition of a fall Halloween-themed two-day festival with many returning favorites on the second weekend of October. Once again hosted by iconic film director John Waters, the Halloween Meltdown will present another whopper of a line-up with performances by such returning favorites as headlining acts Amyl and the Sniffers and Shannon and the Clams, Ty Segall's ferocious psych power trio Fuzz, Detroit garage heroes the Demolition Dollrods, and hooky, glam-meets-punk outfit Sheer Mag along with first-time visitors like caustic punk band the Spits, legendary garage-punk guitarist and bandleader Kid Congo Powers (the Cramps, the Gun Club, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) and NYC noise-rock/no wave priestess Lydia Lunch and her Retrovirus.

Spearheaded by main organizer and Total Trash honcho Marc Ribak and his wife Amy Carver, the Meltdown looks to solidify its reputation as one of the premiere underground rock festivals in the country on par with Goner Records' yearly Gonerfest. The October event has a smaller footprint in the park -- the cement amphitheater will serve as the main stage -- but will still feature vendors selling records, clothes and guitar gear in addition to an array of food options. There will also be a series of associated night shows all weekend at Thee Stork Club (which finally opened a couple of weeks ago following lengthy delays) featuring festival regulars the Mummies Friday through Sunday and at Eli's Mile High Club with Siouxsie and the Banshees tribute band the Banned She's (Saturday) and Nobody's Baby (Sunday) with hysterical one-man groove tornado Chaki the Funk Wizard appearing both nights. He will be performing two different Halloween sets each night that will include special guests.    

The Halloween Meltdown brings back pencil-mustached director and revered trash-culture expert John Waters as MC. Expelled from NYU where he was studying film in the 1960s, Waters rose to notoriety thanks to his string of '70s campy midnight movies including Pink FlamingosFemale Trouble and Desperate Living. Making up what the director termed his "Trash Trilogy," the films shredded the boundaries of conventional propriety and movie censorship with outrageous dialog and action as well as establishing drag queen Divine (Waters' friend from his Baltimore, Maryland childhood and muse, Harris Glenn Milstead) as an actor and cult figure.  

Hot Takes with John Waters | Logo by Logo on YouTube

Waters would eventually go on to more mainstream success with his later films like Hairspray (which inspired the Broadway musical and movie adaptation), the Johnny Depp film Cry-Baby and the scathing satire Serial Mom, but he has remained an icon of trash culture between his b-movie appearances, books and This Filthy World is a one-man stage show exploring his artistic origins. More recently, Waters has explored visual arts with mixed media and manipulated photo exhibits that by his own admission aim to inspire disgust with the viewer. Waters never fails to deliver off-color commentary during hilarious band introductions from the stage. His return as host should be no less entertaining.

For Saturday's line-up, the Halloween Meltdown bill gets topped with another raging appearance by high-energy Aussie punks Amyl and the Sniffers. In the space of a few short years, the group has risen to become one of the most celebrated new acts to emerge from Down Under in the past decade. Formed by pint-sized, bleach-blonde singer Amy Taylor (aka the band's namesake Amyl) and her housemates in suburban Melbourne in 2016, the group named itself after the party drug amyl nitrate or "poppers."

Amyl and The Sniffers, perform 70s Street Munchies, Live at The Brisbane Hotel, 3.2.2017 4 by Peter Macpherson on YouTube

Taking cues from classic '70s proto-punk (particularly Iggy and the Stooges), glam, pub rock and modern punk, the band's recorded and released their debut EP Giddy Up that same year, reportedly tracking the four songs in just 12 hours. While the raw early recordings featured on that recording and the follow-up Big Attraction EP showed the band's knack for writing short -- often only 90 seconds long -- catchy blasts of punk, it was their feral live show that established the band in Australia. Shows often found the diminutive vocalist spending as much time crowd surfing or on the floor dancing with the audience as onstage during performances.

Amyl and the Sniffers - Some Mutts (Can't Be Muzzled) by AmylSniffersVEVO on YouTube

The group would enter the studio to record their debut full-length with producer Ross Orton (the former drummer for UK synth-punk band Add N to X), releasing their eponymous album in 2019 on Flightless, the label affiliated with popular Australian psych band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (ATO and Rough Trade would issue the record in other parts of the world). The album would receive uniformly high praise from critics, earning the ARIA Award -- Australia's version of the Grammy -- for Best Rock Album and getting nominated for the Australian Music Prize.

King Gizzard had already provided Amyl and company with their first significant exposure in the U.S., taking them out on a North American tour the year prior. The quartet would become a popular attraction at festivals its native Australia, Europe and the States, appearing at Coachella and the 2019 edition of the Burger Bugaloo (before it was renamed the Mosswood Meltdown).

Amyl and The Sniffers - Guided By Angels by Amyl and The Sniffers on YouTube

While the pandemic put a pause on the band's momentum and busy touring plans, Amyl & the Sniffers issued their sophomore effort to another round of ecstatic notices last year. While maintaining the group's aggressive musical attack, some of the new songs found Taylor ruminating on self-empowerment, sexual politics and emotional vulnerability that elevated the visceral impact of the album. The band finally returned to San Francisco earlier this year for a pair of storming, sold-out shows at the Great American Music Hall.

Halloween Meltdown 2022
Halloween Meltdown 2022 line-up. Halloween Meltdown

The balance of Saturday's action in Mosswood Park will feature a parade of talents, including Seattle-via-Michigan punk veterans the Spits, noise-rock provocateur Lydia Lunch (founding member of NYC no-wave band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks), the Gories guitarist Dan Kroha's primitive garage trio the Demolition Dollrods, garage-punk hero Kid Congo Powers leading his latest band, LA-based vocalist and synth/drums  duo Warm Drag, hypnotic Oakland post-punk outfit Body Double, tuneful local crew Fake Fruit and experimental Portland, OR-based act Bugs.

The line-up for day two of the ghoulish good time features a festival-closing appearance by one of the most beloved local bands on the scene, Shannon and the Clams. Mixing of '50s and '60s sounds -- elements of early rock and roll stylings (particularly Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison), doo-wop, girl groups, surf and R&B -- with more modern garage-punk grit, singer/bassist Shannon Shaw and singer/guitarist Cody Blanchard first started playing music together in 2007 while students at Oakland's California College of the Arts. They would fill out the band's line-up with drummer Ian Amberson, eventually signing with local record store-affiliated imprint 1-2-3-4 Go! Records for their retro-tinged debut I Wanna Go Home that featured Shaw's raw, emotive delivery at the center of the band's original tunes.

I Wanna Go Home by Shannon and the Clams - Topic on YouTube

 A number of singles and their second effort Sleep Talk followed, with the band eventually moving to Seattle-based Sub Pop subsidiary Hardly Art for the more polished Dreams in the Rat House in 2013. By the time they released Gone By Dawn two years later, drummer Nate Mahan had taken over for the departed Amberson (the later addition of singer/keyboardist Will Sprott would cement the band's current line-up). The group had by then established itself as a powerhouse live act, growing its national fan base and earning invitations to perform at Coachella and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.

The discovery that Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach was a fan would lead the quartet to being signed by his Easy Eye Sound label and him producing their next album, the stellar Onion in 2018. Shaw would also record her solo debut Shannon in Nashville with Auerbach producing and co-writing a majority of the songs on an effort that couched her brassy, powerful voice over lushly orchestrated '60s pop and country arrangements backed by a band of Nashville session legends including drummer Gene Chrisman (Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis) and keyboard player Bobby Wood (Elvis, George Jones, Tammy Wynette).

Shannon and the Clams - Full Performance (Live on KEXP) by KEXP on YouTube

The group would reunite with Auerbach to record their most recent effort, 2021's Year of the Spider that saw Shannon and the Clams pushing their sound ever forward. Shaw performed with her own band at the Mosswood Meltdown in July, but tragedy struck the singer in August when her fiancé and the drummer in her group Joe Haener -- a scene fixture who had played in such notable bands as the Gris Gris, Battleship, the Rock n' Roll Adventure Kids and others -- died in an Oregon car crash just months before their wedding. While Shannon and the Clams would cancel a number of scheduled appearances, last month they made an emotional return to the stage at Gonerfest in Memphis. 

The rest of the Sunday line-up presents an outstanding list of performances including pulverizing heavy psych power trio Fuzz, hooky Philly rockers Sheer Mag, '80s singer Josie Cotton, Portland, OR-based psych-punk group Spoon Benders, rising LA punk band Niis and local garage-rock favorites Whateverglades and the Ogres. Sunday's schedule also includes a costume contest hosted by the aforementioned ChakiDJ Omar Perez (Popscene, Leisure) plays music between bands on both days. The Halloween-themed weekend celebration will also feature a haunted house designed by Musk lead singer and noted horror aficionado Rob Fletcher. More information and tickets are available at the Halloween Meltdown website.

Halloween Meltdown
Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 8-9, 12 p.m. $59-$179
Mosswood Park

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