Photo: Tommy Cahill

Veruca Salt Crushes San Diego’s Soda Bar

Veruca Salt is back and ready to kick ass and it feels so good.

It was not just another Wednesday night at the Soda Bar, a dive with a tiny stage that rarely hosts a band with platinum album sales. Veruca Salt was launching their first tour with their original lineup since the 20th century, a cross-country trek that will take them to a number of more venerable venues. But San Diegans were thrilled to have a chance to help the band kick off the tour and word even had it that some hardcore fans had traveled many a mile to witness the tour opener.

The bar was packed with anticipation of a rock ‘n’ roll show that would conjure the glory days of the alt-rock revolution of the 1990s and alt-rock goddesses Louise Post and Nina Gordon did not disappoint. “Hatchets buried, axes exhumed,” the sirens had posted on their new Facebook page when they announced they were getting the band back together with original drummer Jim Shapiro (Gordon’s brother) and original bassist Steve Lack. But no mere nostalgia tour is this. The band has a rocking new album out this month in Ghost Notes and their long overdue second act has Veruca Salt poised to make some of the best musical mayhem of 2015.

The set leaned more toward the classic material from the group’s first two smash albums, but new songs were mixed in with solid results to indicate a promising future. “Shimmer Like a Girl” from the 1996 Blow It Out Your Ass It’s Veruca Salt EP released between the band’s first two albums was an early peak. The tune epitomizes the band’s vibe with the ladies’ sugary harmonies soaring over distorted guitar harmonics and a heavy beat. That contrast between sweet and dark is what made the band stand out from the pack of alt-rock pretenders that followed the original grunge wave in the ‘90s, and it will carry them again in 2015. There’s still a huge void in the modern music scene of ladies who truly rock, which makes the sight of Post and Gordon onstage together a most welcome vision.

The good times continued to roll with the infectious “Forsythia,” with smiles all around during the melodic number as the band continued to find their groove. “Shutterbug” was another gem, with Lack’s big bassline introducing the tune before the crashing guitars and clever twist into a poppy chorus that contrasts with the darker verses. “Come Clean Dark Thing” from the new album had heads bobbing over a mid-tempo groove as the ladies sang of being able to breathe the air again, perhaps a metaphor for their revived partnership.

The band was on a roll but took their sonic assault to a higher level with the incendiary “All Hail Me”, the darkly anthemic put down of a rapist from the debut album that helped establish Veruca Salt as a genuine sonic force to be reckoned with. The energy in the packed bar soared as the band and crowd united in that special collective consciousness where the music plays the band and all are one. The band definitely had their mojo working now as Post’s endearing smile proved.

“Don’t Make Me Prove It” was another highlight with the sirens’ harmonies soaring over a deliciously crunchy groove. They don’t play much lead guitar, but Post and Gordon are both alt-rock rhythm guitar aces with their rocking chord progressions, hooky riffs and rich harmonic accents. 1994’s smash hit “Seether” kept the house rocking in a triumphant blast from MTV’s glory days and the band earned credit by not saving it for last, as so many bands do with their biggest hit. The group had certainly earned the chance to deliver some more new music now and delivered the goods with “The Museum of Broken Relationships”. The song starts off slow and builds with skillful sonic layering until the chorus explodes with grungey goodness over one of the band’s classic choruses that mixes counterpoint melodies with infectious backing vocals. The new “Alternica” was another winner and served as a worthy set closer, an epic tune that built from a slow simmer to a rolling boil with a majestic chorus and then a heavy outro jam that blew away the assembled.

The triple encore was another triumph, starting with the downtempo yet heavy sound of “Earthcrosser.” Then the ladies cranked it back up to eleven on “I’m Taking Europe with Me”, another gem from the underrated 1996 Blow It Out Your Ass EP that fans will have to dig out of their CD collections to hear again since it is apparently out of print and not available on Spotify. Hearing this song cranked out and crushed in 2015 was like a sublimely lucid dream come to life. Then “Volcano Girls” closed it out with a last blast of melodic pop-grunge goodness.

Some fans were no doubt thinking about heading up to LA to see the next show as this one exceeded all expectations and was probably the best show the Soda Bar will see all year. Veruca Salt is back and ready to kick ass and it feels so good. Women who can sing, play an instrument and rock out with the best of the guys remain such a rare commodity. The formula was special 20 years ago and remains an elusive sonic elixir here in 2015. The return of Veruca Salt can therefore only be seen as a glorious blessing from the music gods.