By David Clendenen
Photo by June Kashiwada
On November 16, 2018 Sacramento-based indie rock band Tonic Zephyr took to the stage at Momo Sacramento and kicked off the set with two new rockers, the soulful and heavily rhythmic “Scorpion,” and the mind-warping “Paranoia,” a slowly unfolding epic arrangement with a cool, sweeping vibe and almost sinister undertones. Seven more songs followed: “Wild,” from their eponymous CD released in 2017, followed by “The Ocean” and “Moby Dick” from Led Zeppelin, and then four more from the archives: “Tie Dyed Grey,” surely destined to be a hit single, “Those Bones,” another high-potential track from their CD, “Magic Man” by Heart and “Lotus,” a beautifully soaring, psychedelic ballad which the band gradually accelerates in tempo approaching the end of the song right into the climactic finale to wrap up the set with a frenzy when they play it live.
The sound at Momo Lounge was quite good, with a perfect mix that had the place pounding with energy, and Madi’s voice with all of its lovely tonal characteristics shone through like a gem. The band’s talent and stage presence were impressive throughout.
TZ brought a lot of energy to the stage that night. Every member of the band demonstrated stellar musicianship and originality. The virtuosity and creativity of the rhythm section was especially noteworthy, as Ricardo “Rico” Ucles’ drumming was dynamic and exciting and Riley Olsen’s fingers climbed all over his bass fretboard like a crazed spider. Lead guitarist JT Loux demonstrated his own exceptional guitar skills as he laid it all down in a wall of sound, adding tasteful, well-phrased solos, delicate riffs and bluesy shreds while lead singer Madi Gold’s solid rhythm guitar backed him up on most of the songs and gave him the foundation upon which to build. Their songs have interesting, entrancing lyrics written by Madi and delivered with style and passion, and studied arrangements with space for artful guitar parts to float over steady rhythms. And rhythmically they are tight. The onstage action was fun to watch too as the band always puts on a good show. Madi easily engaged the crowd, which clearly appreciated the performance.
Tonic Zephyr has evolved since its inception. When JT and Madi formed Tonic Zephyr in December 2015 they had originally planned to remain a duo with a softer, more acoustically-driven sound, but when they met Bruce Spencer (Vector, The 77s), who produced their first CD, he steered them towards a more rock/indie/pop kind of sound and as the recordings became more instrumentally layered they realized they would need a full band to reproduce their recorded sound when they played live. They brought in JT’s friend Riley on bass as well as another guitarist and two other drummers before settling into their current lineup with Rico on drums and Madi herself taking over the rhythm guitar in addition to fronting the band and singing. This lineup has been in place now for the past year or so. And it is clear these members share loads of mutual respect for each other, and they all strive to honor the quality of their debut album when performing live.
The melding of their diverse musical influences has contributed in a big way to their sound and stage show. JT draws ideas from David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, BB King and Buddy Guy. Riley’s bass is largely inspired by Geezer Butler, Geddy Lee and Cliff Burton. Rico’s drum influences include John Bonham, Ginger Baker, Alex Van Halen and Stuart Copeland. Madi’s muses are equal parts Anthony Kiedis for stage presence and lyrics, and Stevie Nicks due to her fascination with “darkness and dark things” and how Stevie Nicks folds these themes into the rock and folk genres. What JT also appreciates about Madi’s influences is that both the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fleetwood Mac write honest songs with heartfelt sincerity relating to their own, often turbulent, personal lives.
Tonic Zephyr have received the help of some industry veterans along the way. Aside from original producers Bruce Spencer and Mark Harmon, Brad Lang, formerly of Y&T, played bass on “Wild,” the album’s fifth track. (They recently shot a video for that which is slated for imminent release.) And Tesla’s lead guitarist Frank Hannon has been mentoring JT on the ins and outs of the music business, even accompanying him to NAMM earlier this year to introduce him to the industry.
Tonic Zephyr will be going on a brief tour January 24th through 30th; so far LA, San Diego, San Louis Obispo, Santa Cruz and San Francisco are on the itinerary. Be sure to check them out when they come to a town near you—you’ll be glad you did.
For updates check out their website: https://toniczephyr.com/