Friday, July 31, 2009

Cruevo vs. Brainoil

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly ten years since both of these bands played their first shows. With all of the bands and records that the local scene has spawned since then, it’s possible that both Cruevo and Brainoil have been reduced to mere footnotes in this decade’s history. However, they deserve to be a much more significant part of a chapter, which is why we’re here today.

Cruevo initially played a couple shows as “Rivers of Uriah aka Cruevo,” and I think we’re all thankful that they opted to shorten the name. Once they settled on a vocalist and got themselves together as a band, the potential for Cruevo to become one of the definitive Oakland bands was certainly high. It’s true that they were the main band at the time that connected different aspects of the local punk scene. Guitarist and principal songwriter Paul Kott was in Medication Time, and was certainly friends with the Life is Abuse/Dystopia crowd. Pamella Ausejo was a veteran of the San Francisco music scene, and her old band Squat was included on the Shit Gets Smashed comp in the mid-‘90s. Bassist Rueben Luna had just played in the short-lived crusty HC band Exitwound, and was a regular at the same Oakland dive bars where the late ‘80s/early ‘90s generation of East Bay punks hung out. Drummer Scott Plumb was the vocalist for a short-lived local hardcore band called Conviction, and was one in a group of punk kids who’d moved to Oakland from the suburbs of Concord a few years before.

Brainoil started around the same time as Cruevo, and connected some dots in their own right. Guitarist Nate Smith was “Cybernate Scabies” in Destroy, and had quietly relocated to the East Bay in the late ‘90s. Greg Wilkinson had gotten some attention from the Slap a Ham crowd by shredding his bass in the Man is the Bastard-esque Lana Dagales. After parting ways with ex-Resist drummer Ty Smith and their short-lived crusty hardcore band Squalor, Greg and Nate formed a new band that would sound decidedly different than what they had done previously. The result was Mrbrainoil, playing heavy stoner sludge with noise effects. They played at least one show with a drum machine and another with Etay from Lana Dagales on the kit. Shortly thereafter, they acquired the services of ex-Grimple/Ojorojo skinbasher Ira Tollah, de-formalized their moniker, and Oakland’s newest badass sludge band was born.

It was natural for these bands to team up, and they both played together on a regular basis. The best example of the Cruevo/Brainoil series took place at Burnt Ramen in June of 2001, which is one of those shows where a lot of people claim to have attended, but weren’t actually physically there. The show had been running entirely too long, and most of the crowd had cleared out. Brainoil and Cruevo were the last two bands left, so they set up their gear and staged a battle set, much to the approval of us tired folks that still happened to be there. It ended the show on a high note, and made it seem like less of a disaster than it really was. Another great show took place that same summer at Paul’s house in the Dogtown area of West Oakland. In a glimpse of what the Oakland punk scene used to have (and would have again), all of the punks were getting together in the backyard over beer, buds, BBQ, and bands. Leechmilk also played, and not a single person refused to donate a few bucks for the touring band.

Cruevo became the more popular band right off the bat, and at first glance was the better band. Dubbing themselves “rotgut rock ‘n’ roll,” they had good, memorable songs that caught on with the Oakland crusty crowd. The energy they generated onstage was—here’s the word most used in conjunction with Cruevo—infectious, and you just had to figure that the next great band from Oakland’s heavy punk scene was already here. But as it turned out, Cruevo had hit their peak early. Pamella left the band, and they brought in ex-Eldopa/Murder Takes No Holiday guitarist Bryan Ward (currently of One in the Chamber) to replace her. Bryan is a very good guitarist, but this lineup change did not go well. Then Rueben left the band, and Greg was pegged to do double duty between Cruevo and Brainoil. The final nail in the coffin occurred at a Gilman show where the sequel to the Burnt Ramen battle set was to take place. Instead, Cruevo’s vocalist Chad was arrested by the Berkeley police just before their set. If I recall, the battle set idea was scrapped, and Cruevo stumbled through a less-than-inspired set before calling it quits a couple shows later.

But to me, Brainoil were always the more interesting of the two. I really enjoyed how they took sludge and stripped it down, keeping the heavy and punishing riffs and disposing of the excess. Their driving pace made me think of bands like Buzzov-en—bands who didn’t play particularly fast, but kept the power and retained their hardcore tendencies because of it. Much like early Corrosion of Conformity, Brainoil had the right kind of drumbeats that made them one of the only slow bands that the hardcore punk crowd found acceptable. The show that sticks out the most in my mind is when they played with Dystopia and Ludicra at Gilman in November of 2002. It was the worst set I’ve ever seen from Dystopia, and I seem to recall that Ludicra wasn’t up to their usual standard either. Although plenty of people were gushing about Dystopia, the real talk of the show for weeks afterward was Brainoil’s crushing set. If there was any doubt that Brainoil could get out from under Cruevo’s shadow, they were erased for good that night. But Ira was constantly on tour with his ex-Grimple cohorts in Watch Them Die, so opportunities to capitalize on Brainoil’s successful outing didn’t happen as often as they should have. When Nate started playing more with Stormcrow and Greg with Laudanum, the writing was clearly on the wall. I think Brainoil’s last show took place about three years ago—a horrible show at Gilman where their set was cut short after the rest of the show ran too long. They certainly deserved better than that.

This split CD is one of a couple releases that captures that time of rebuilding the underground East Bay punk scene. Both Cruevo and Brainoil contributed so much to that process, but whether or not the majority of this scene’s bands and participants realize that is up for debate. But you can realize it by clicking here.


Unknown said...

Great post, dude! Classic album!! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

The link is under indictment, Loki. Looks like the kid's will have to start coughing up 80 bucks for the CD again on Ebay if they want it.