The New Kinetics are rock and roll, from its roots to its rebellion, from its craft to its showmanship. Just the words rock and roll conjure up so many visceral images that play across our brains, inundated with the history and its constant rewriting from almost the moment we’re born, that it becomes hard to separate one from the next. The glitz and glamour, the wailing voices and guitars, the pounding rhythms, the heartbreak, the passion, the transcendence, the feeling, the soul. The energy! It’s all there when The New Kinetics take the stage.
Merriam Webster defines kinetic as “of or relating to the motion of material bodies and the forces and energy associated therewith.” New is defined as “having recently come into existence.” One must wonder when listening to the band discuss the origin of their name, how they could have possibly known the perfect beauty it encompassed. The New Kinetics are exactly that, new kinetics, when on stage.
The creation of energy is infectious and burns memories into the skull that won’t easily be removed. It begins with Jon Bonser effortlessly anchoring their sound with his solid yet fluid style. Simple, driving beats interspersed with flourishing fills that recall the heydays of the 60’s drum gods, all delivered from a center of calm among the frenzy. New bassist Joshua Kmak bubbles with energy begging to explode all over the stage. His frenetic jumping provides a pleasing complement to his thumping bass lines. Positively infectious, Kmak makes the audience want to leap with him.
This band, however, find its heart and soul in the incomparable Brian Reilly (guitar) and Birdy Bardot (vocals). The New York natives have known each other since they were kids. Their story is straight out of a Hollywood movie, high school sweethearts who went on to get married. But real life is often stranger than fiction, and who could have guessed they would end up playing in one of San Diego’s best bands together. One only needs to witness a few songs from their live show to grasp how perfect their union is in every way. Birdy is the primary songwriter, though Brian’s contributions are some of their strongest and most diverse numbers. Beyond the logistics of it though, is the very essence of rock and roll. The interplay on stage, the raw energy, the way they know each other so well that sometimes it seems they are one, all help to breathe a unique life into the source material, raising it from the vinyl like ghosts of dead legends and channeling it into a fierce aural attack.
Music at its best is never predictable and remaining fluid is essential. Thus it came to light this last month that Birdy and Brian will be moving to the East coast and embarking on a new chapter in their lives. The tight-knit music community that surrounds them has pulled together to celebrate their last shows as an homage to what will surely stand as one of the finest pure rock and roll acts to ever grace a Southern California stage. Though their style screams of the raging clubs of 60’s and 70’s New York City, their presence in San Diego has somehow always made sense.
There are many great venues in San Diego, but a few stand out from the rest and one can safely argue that The Casbah is king of them all. So it was with a mix of bitter melancholy and palpable excitement that The New Kinetics’ fans gathered on Monday, June 17th, 2013 at The Casbah to watch them grace that famed stage one last time. Part of The Steelwells’ June residency, the bill was packed to screaming with friends and fellow local rockers SXO and Brothers Weiss on the bill. But despite this being the Steelwells shindig, The New Kinetics were the clear reason people were there that night.
Birdy and Brian offstage are a pleasant conundrum; in part so true to their band personas and at the same time the two nicest people you could hope to befriend. Sincere and refreshingly authentic, to know them and talk to them only makes their performance that much better. And for all the hundreds of fans they have, it is those closest to them, mostly comprised of their fellow local musicians, that you see at each and every show, at the front of the stage, taking it all in and giving back all they can. Inspiring the band while feeding their own souls, the symbiotic relationship that forms this community is nothing short of amazing. Both Birdy and Brian are apt to call out the names of all the bands present in their audience at any given show.
And the last Casbah show was as good as it ever got. Members of Mittens, The Touchies, Duping the Public, Gone Baby Gone, Neighbors to the North, Family Wagon, and Chess Wars (just to name a few) came out to witness the magic. And magic was present in enormous amounts that night. Almost from the opening guitar lick, the energy was thick in the air, electric and volatile, waiting to combust in a flurry of amplified ecstasy accompanied by soaring vocals. Ripping through song after song, working the crowd into a frenzy, it was clear that the band was leaving it all on the stage.
Despite perfectly executed versions of several songs, including crowd favorites “Serpentine” and “Tear Down Your Idols”, it was the evening’s mellowest moment that proved to be its best. Playing their song “Reverie“, a stark contrast to their rowdy and raucous rock and roll anthems, Birdy and Brian laid bare their souls for their musical family.
Birdy is the quintessential rock and roll front-woman, a mix of spot-on vocals and contagious energy. But it is easy to miss just how wonderful her vocal prowess is while listening to their standard fare. Reverie strips everything down to its basics though; delicate bare-bones drums and bass accompanied by ambient guitar allows one to fully appreciate the beauty and power in Birdy’s voice. And like its namesake, the song leaves you in a daydream state, floating on her haunting melodies into short explosions of feedback-laden guitar riffs.
Reverie, however, goes so much deeper than all that. On that particular night, it seemed to be telling the story of their current lives, letting the audience into their circle so intimately, to share in their precious moments. I cannot confirm what the inspiration of the song is, but I can relate what it inspires in me. The lines “ Cause the feeling’s different this time around/yea you’ve changed me somehow/now it feels safe to drown/as long as you’re around” speak of a bond, a love, stronger than steel. Reminiscent of those early relationship head-over-heels feelings, it also speaks to me of the strength of two people who have endured and trust in each other beyond measure.
The third verse seems to describe the pleasant state of a daydream, where one’s dreams can remain in tact beyond the harsh realities of heartbreak and loss. Though one line, regardless of it meaning or intent, took on its own life on The Casbah stage that night, exhibiting the true beauty of music. Despite a writer’s intentions, music is at its best when it becomes an organic, living, breathing story between an artist and an audience. All of us possess the ability to read into a song and find a meaning that fits us. To witness the writing, or rewriting, of those meanings right in front of your eyes, is an experience beyond words.
On any given night, the fact that Birdy and Brian are husband and wife can lend this song extra emotion. On that night, as Birdy crooned the words “Deep in my heart, I will hold on to even the thought of you/because it helps me to”, she ever so gently wrapped her arm around Brian’s back and pointed to his shoulder as the word “you” escaped her lips. Knowing they’re married, knowing their love of music, knowing the journey that awaits them and knowing that The New Kinetics were coming to an end, the gesture spoke volumes. A perfect moment between musicians, bandmates, soulmates, that became larger than its parts. It spoke of the amazing run The New Kinetics have had and all the memories they will take with them. It spoke of the impact they’ve made on their fans. It spoke of the hope and dream that their music will live beyond the life of the band. It spoke of the need to live in each of those moments the band had left, for both the fans and themselves. It spoke of some things much deeper as well. The love between a husband and wife as they face a time of adversity in their union. Two people whose lives are so intertwined, both personally and musically. They’ve spent the last several years sharing their lives on a level and in a way that I’m positive not many people have the opportunity to experience. Playing music bonds you in ways unexplainable to the average person. Playing music with someone you’ve dedicated your life to must bring that bond to a level almost unimaginable. And to share a moment frozen in time, where it could have been just Birdy and Brian all by themselves, the music and lyrics seeming to weave their tale, a testament to their love, their bond, and the path ahead, was beyond special. As magical a musical moment – on so many levels – as I have maybe ever seen.
And in the end, that’s what we want from our musicians; to in some small way be a part of it all. I don’t believe anyone could have predicted a moment such as this. It was the perfect moment in the bittersweet last chapter of one of San Diego’s most cherished local bands. It was all we wanted, and more. We, as fans, can only hope it felt the same way for the band.
With only one remaining show on Saturday, June 29th at the Tin Can Alehouse, The New Kinetics run has come to an end. But in this case, the sum of their parts is greater than the whole. Joshua Kmak fronts another local band, The Nformals. Their recent CD release show served notice that the spirit of The New Kinetics will not be gone or forgotten. Jon Bonser is much too good of a drummer to remain off the scene for long. His impending availability will have other local bands foaming at the mouth. And Birdy and Brian have a journey ahead of them, unaware of what the future holds. But life is meant to be experienced, lived, not passively, but rather quite aggressively. It is part of the essence of rock and roll. It is part of the attraction of The New Kinetics.
So, lost in that reverie, San Diego will move on, as will the members of The New Kinetics. But none of us will forget. And for that, we humbly thank you.
Editor’s note: This is Danny Katz first guest piece for Sounds in San Diego, but hopefully not his last. You can catch him and his band Neighbors to the North this Tuesday, July 2 at The Griffin. Read about that show and more here.