by Erin Holland
Last week, Huntington Beach, Calif. reggae/hip-hop/alternative rock hybrid The Dirty Heads decided they would show some love to Little Rock on Valentine’s Day. Just the second stop on their month-long national tour with Shiny Toy Guns, Midi Matilda and Oh No Fiasco, the boys kept the momentum going strong from late night into the early morning, captivating the Juanita’s crowd with their infectious blend of alternative rock, Sublime-y reggae melodies, buoyant acoustic pop and spitfire hip-hop cloaked in a palpable, carefree So-Cal vibe.
The Dirty Heads are one of those bands that are nearly impossible to categorize under one genre. While it’s obvious who many of their influences are — they sound like the Beastie Boys and Sublime had a love child who grew up holed up in his bedroom listening to Eminem — there is a distinctly sunny, lighthearted feel to their music. Most of songs, in one way or another, encourage the audience to let go of the stress, anxiety and general negativity that weighs them down in the rat race of life, ignore those who don’t appreciate the unique beauty in all of us and, even if only for the night, kick back, have a drink and let the warm waves of their breezy tunes wash over you in a state of relaxed bliss.
Opening the night with their hit “Dance All Night” featuring the Hasidic rapper Matisyahu whipped the crowd up into an ecstatic frenzy and set the mood perfectly for the rest of the evening. Having released their sophomore album “Cabin By the Sea” in 2012, I was pleasantly surprised by how many songs they played from 2008’s “Any Port in the Storm,” which is a little less Sublime, a little more Beasties. Throughout the night, the audience was treated to live renditions of "Stand Tall," "Lay Me Down," "In My Neighborhood," "Shine" and the ultimate anthem to the overworked and overwhelmed (who isn't these days?) "Spread Too Thin," among others. The constant energy and participation from the audience made it difficult to ascertain crowd favorites, but there was an undeniable uptick in the elated crowd's energy during both "Hip Hop Misfits" ("it's the hip hop misfits! / yes, from the Pacific! / yes, we getting splifted! / yes, we are the gifted!") and the the impossible-not-to-dance-to "Check The Level" that could be felt everywhere, whether front-row center or in the back ordering a Blue Raspberry Mad Dog 20/20 from the friendly and hospitable bar staff.
Despite the blistering cold outside, the atmosphere and the experience inside made you feel as if you had just been transported to a huge beach house party in the middle of July, complete with blazing bonfires, gorgeous sunsets and all your favorite people. With the exception of Phish shows, I've never seen a crowd full of such friendly fans, openly introducing themselves and inviting you to share the experience with them as you sing and dance along together. I felt as if I had been unexpectedly welcomed into a new community where the only prerequisite was simply showing up. Everywhere I looked I saw smiling faces, strangers becoming friends, and the kind of perfectly synchronized dancing and head-bobbing you only find in musicals and at seriously groovy concerts. As I took in the scene, I was initially shocked to see how many people knew every single word to every single song. What I realize now is it’s almost impossible not to once you've seen and experienced them live. Not only do they sound just as good live as on their recorded tracks, but the sheer energy they project in their performance as they interact with the exuberant, amorous crowd has an intoxicating effect that sticks. The uplifting vibe they project in their sound and performance is infectious — you leave wanting more and more. I can honestly say, about 98 percent of the music I've listened to since then has been them. You can take this a warning: they are literally addictive.
Additionally, this is a band that seems to enjoy taking every opportunity to interact with their fans they can. Before they took the stage, percussionist Jon Olazabal was working the merchandise table, and when my friend pointed out to him they were selling his favorite RAW brand filter tips (who I later found out they are sponsored by) and joked that he was destined to be a fan, Olazabal handed him a pack on the house. As if that weren't enough to make his night, after the show was over, instead of hiding backstage and waiting for the room to clear, I saw several band members hanging out and chatting with their starstruck fans. We had the opportunity to speak with keyboardist Shawn Hagood for a bit, who admitted he had never before been to Little Rock but was having a great time so far and thanked us for coming out to the show. He even signed my friend's filter tips for him.
At one point before the night was over, singer Jared "Dirty J" Watson informed the crowd that most bands would, at that point, "Pretend to end the show and walk off stage, waiting for the crowd to beg them to come back." However, but they weren't going to do that, because they were loving Little Rock and the crowd so much they were going to play and party the night away until they dropped. Whether you're a fan of reggae, ska, alternative rock, and hip-hop or not, I have a hard time believing anyone who said they didn't enjoy the Hell out of Dirty Heads live. I, for one, hope to return soon, and so should you. If you weren't there for the last one, believe me — this is not a show you want to miss twice!