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Dirty Ghosts

(25 Feb 2012: Bar Pink — San Diego, CA)

It’s Saturday night in San Diego’s hip North Park district and the music scene is about to receive a welcome kick in the butt. Too many bands have been skipping San Diego of late, choosing to play just Los Angeles instead. But Dirty Ghosts out of San Francisco know better than to bypass the ninth largest city in these United States, where there’s plenty of music fans ready for an excuse to rock.


Sure the Great Depression of the 21st century is putting a big crimp in the spending power of the masses, but you’d be hard pressed to tell by observing the San Diego bar scene on any given weekend. Tickets here are only $8 and it’s a bargain price for the fresh sounds that are about to go down. Bar Pink is something of an offbeat venue, but the little cocktail lounge has its charms. The stage is small but the sound is crisp and there’s a nice selection of craft microbrews on tap, something that San Diego is becoming more and more known for.


Dirty Ghosts have just released their debut album Metal Moon and it’s a winner, an edgy and rocking platter filled with tight songs and streetwise attitude from singer/guitarist Allyson Baker. It’s hard to believe she was reluctant to take on lead vocal duties in the band (after her previous group Parchman Farm fell apart), because she’s clearly got what it takes. An early highlight in the set is the album opener “Ropes that Way”, a hard-hitting tune with a rock solid beat that gets heads nodding, a fat groove and the perfect spaces in between to highlight Baker’s infectious vocals. She’s got an easily apparent charisma that recalls some of Joan Jett’s early swagger, a bit of Chrissie Hynde’s moxie and a dash of Kim Gordon’s in your face vibe. But Baker’s got her own thing going, as evidenced by the way she commands the stage like a seasoned pro. You’d never guess she only just took on lead vocal duties.


So many indie rock bands these days seem to think that they have to put out a constant wall of sound, but Dirty Ghosts really know their way around a groove. The album is filled with nifty beats, with an assist from Baker’s husband, Aesop Rock. He’s clearly crafty with the drum loops, lending Metal Moon a percussive dynamic that stands out in the crowded indie rock field. The band’s relatively unique sound is also aided by a diversity of influences from the electro, punk and psychedelic garage rock genres. It all adds up to one of the freshest sounds of 2012.


“Shout It In” features staccato chords over a bubbling bass line from Erin McDermott, who brings plenty of her own swagger to the low end. The two ladies riff off of each other throughout the night, exhibiting some strong chemistry that pushes the set’s energy levels higher and higher as it continues. “Katana Rock” is a hard charging rocker with some trippy atmospherics from keyboardist/percussionist Nick Andre. Baker’s voice takes on an arena rock quality over the big beats from drummer Ben Tuttle here, and it’s not hard to imagine the band playing much bigger venues in the not too distant future. Baker can play some guitar too, ripping out a bluesy solo here while sharing a groove with bassist McDermott. Female rock singers with strong instrumental talent have always been a rarity, so Baker’s presence on the scene with Dirty Ghosts is a treat.


Another tune features a big power trio type jam, where the band shows they can stretch out if they want to and keep a room moving over a big groove. This is an instrumental power that is frequently lacking in the indie rock world, but Dirty Ghosts have got it going on. “19 in ‘71” is just plain dirty rock ‘n’ roll with a propulsive beat, a punchy walking bass line, hot guitar riffs and unusual keyboard parts that keep things from getting predictable.


“Battle Slang” closes out the set with another hot tune featuring some groovy cowbell accents over an active bass line and more of those affecting vocals from Baker. The band has been locked and loaded throughout the set and it’s only a shame that it ends all too soon. The crowd is clearly ready for more…

Greg M. Schwartz has covered music and pop culture for PopMatters since 2006. He focuses on events coverage with a preference for guitar-driven rock 'n' roll, but has eclectic tastes for the golden age of sound that is the 21st century music scene. He has a soft spot for music with a socially conscious flavor and is also an award-winning investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @gms111, where he's always looking for tips on new bands or under the radar news items.


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21 Mar 2012
Old hand at the rock game Allyson Baker teams up with husband Aesop Rock -- and takes up singing -- on the debut album from her project Dirty Ghosts.
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