Arriving at The Observatory in Santa Ana, Orange County, a little before doors for the second night of Tiger Army’s ninth Octoberflame Halloween weekend spectacular, there was a real sense of community spirit amongst the crowd, reminiscent of when I last saw The Wildhearts when they were touring their PHUQ album.
It was clear talking with just those around me that these feel like more than just regular gigs, even though the band have been back to a regular touring schedule for the last two years, with people travelling from as close as minutes away to those from nearby cities, other states or, like in my case, considerably further.
It was also clear their was a strong contingent there to catch the opening band, Las Vegas based, So Cal regulars, The Delta Bombers.
Combining a little bit of country with a lot of rock ‘n’ roll and a raw rockabilly kind of energy the quartet blasted out from the off and had the crowd with them all the way.
Dressed for the night as The Hives as their choice of Halloween attire, they were reminiscent of the Swedish garage rockers in terms of energy but with more grit thrown into the mix.
Their big presence and big sound, highlighted by the huge voice of frontman Chris Moinchen, that stood out even in an a capella moment, and the brilliant work of drummer Kirk Highberger, meant that as their thirty minute set came to an end it was clear many wanted more, myself included.
As with my past Octoberflame experience, Tiger Army have curated each night to feature a varied line up, so after the sizzling rockabilly of The Delta Bombers it was time for some pure vintage So Cal punk rock from Channel 3.
While they may have a looked a little like the teacher from The Breakfast Club fronting a punk band, it was clear right away the image didn’t really match the attitude.
Being one of the lesser elder statesmen bands of Californian punk rock they played a brand of fairly standard but highly enjoyable skate punk that was a little lose around the edges in places.
Given the welcome received by The Delta Bombers it was hard to escape the fact that there weren’t as many here for CH3, so they had a bit of a struggle winning over the audience, but, by the half way mark people were getting into it.
By the final track of the set they got a pit going and seemed to have won over many fans, not surprising given frontman Mike Magrann’s charm and energetic presence.
After a slightly protracted break, and it felt like the air conditioning being switched off, Tiger Army stepped onto the stage to a huge reaction and the mosh pit kicked off in earnest from opener Ghost Tigers Rise, onwards.
With a different set on each of the three nights of Octoberflame, it felt like this one was maybe a little on the harder and faster, more punk and psychobilly, side of the ban’ds repertoire, but it featured enough variation to keep everyone happy.
While the band were a little sloppy on some of the lesser played songs, playing to this, metaphorically if not entirely geographically, hometown crowd meant this was all taken in stride and every song was greeted like a hit single and the pit never let up, save for a brief waltz to the slowest of numbers.
The standard trio of Nick 13 (guitar, vocals), Djordje Stijepovic (bass, vocals) and Mike Fasano (drums) were joined by two guests to augment their live sound, allowing for more rarely heard album tracks to be realised.
First was backing vocalist Savi who’s astonishing voice made sounds I would otherwise have assumed might be a very well controlled theremin adding at points a suitably spooky atmosphere but also adding to the bands more recent noirish vintage tendencies.
Also joining the band, on keyboards, was TSOL’s Greg Kuehn adding to the Southern California punk community feel and again helping out on both some of the newer tracks and a few of Tiger Army’s older more country tinged moments.
Ending the main set on Santa Carla Twilight (a particular favourite of mine) and their anthem Never Die the band were soon back for an encore that left the hot (in both senses) crowd satisfied, at least until the next night for those doing the Octoberflame marathon, and backed up the feeling that, in this setting, Tiger Army’s fan base feels as much like a movement as that I’ve seen with The Wildhearts and My Chemical Romance in their prime.