An Appreciation of Rocket From the Crypt
Celebrating the band that first gave me pride for San Diego's music scene
Photo by Achim Raschka
I’ve never been one to tout hometown pride for things I’m not necessarily proud of. Don’t get me wrong—I’m a staunch advocate of some of the underappreciated cultural offerings in San Diego, but you’re never going to hear me defending San Diego drivers, sunburns or anything woefully mislabeled “BBQ” within the city limits. And that goes for our music community as well; I champion local music as often as I can, but simply being from San Diego isn’t all it takes to spark my enthusiasm, nor am I going to go out of my way to claim SD pride for artists that, at-best, laid their head here before finding success somewhere else. Go ahead and boast that Tom Waits and Frank Zappa are San Diego artists all you want—it’s a very generous stretch.
But of the bands that do gin up my hometown pride, none do so more than Rocket from the Crypt. Back in the early ‘90s, San Diego had begun to earn a reputation for being “the next Seattle” in rock magazines—not because of our coffee or our dot-com success stories, but because the level of talent in our local indie music scene, as critics saw it anyway, had us poised to blow up in the mainstream much in the same way grunge did in Seattle.
Spoiler: It didn’t.
There were, however, a handful of bands that caught the ears of listeners outside of San Diego, and Rocket from the Crypt is the best of them. Back when I was in college, they were one of essentially two San Diego bands I anecdotally determined that people from outside of California had heard of (the other one was blink-182), and that was likely on the strength of some alt-rock radio hit songs like 1995’s “On a Rope.” Though Rocket arguably benefited from the rise of grunge in the ‘90s, that’s not what they did. No, they played high-octane, giddy rock ‘n’ roll informed by the likes of The Stooges and MC5 and with the showmanship of James Brown.
Going to a Rocket from the Crypt show isn’t like going to any other rock show. It’s an event. At every appearance, the group take the stage in matching uniforms, which range from elaborate button-down shirts to astronaut flight suits. Their first seven or eight songs blow by at a dizzying clip in 10 to 12 minutes. Their closing performance of “Come See, Come Saw” (usually) stretches to upwards of 15. In the ‘90s, their Halloween shows became the stuff of legend, and usually ended up being mini-festivals with stacked lineups of other great local bands, like No Knife, Black Heart Procession or Deadbolt. I was always too young to go to those before they broke up (the first time). I’ve caught them twice on Halloween since they reunited in 2013, each of which ranks among the most fun I’ve ever had watching live music. Come to think of it, that goes for just about every time I’ve seen them.
Back in the ‘90s, the band said that anybody with a Rocket tattoo would be granted free entry to their shows. It’s not really a thing anymore—they don’t play as frequently, and too many people have Rocket tats at this point—but for a while it was a pretty good gimmick. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered getting one myself.
Other Recommended Shows This Week:
Danny Brown (October 23, Music Box): In the past, the Detroit rapper’s visited some pretty intense, bleak places in his albums. But his latest, uknowhatimsayin¿ (produced by A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip) is a little bit less white-knuckle than we’re used to. In fact, it’s more of a hat-tip to old-school hip-hop sounds and aesthetics, and it’s one of the best half-hours of music released in 2019.
Checked Out 2019 (October 26, Central Library): An experimental music showcase at the Central Library? It’s true, and it’s awesome. Stay Strange has been putting on unusual, boundary-pushing sets in San Diego for years, and this Halloween will take over the library with sets from occult ukulele artists The Sorcerer Family, Persian classical folk artist Dornob and more, including a shadow puppet theatre.
Lucy Dacus (October 28, Belly Up Tavern): I had the good fortune of seeing Lucy Dacus twice last year—once on her own at The Casbah, and then again with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers as boygenius at the Observatory North Park. And it doesn’t matter the context, her songs are always gorgeous, her presence always magnetic. One of the best singer/songwriters in America today.