The Common Kings didn't seem to mind one bit. Their California brand of fusion dub and reggae fueled the stickless and seedless dreams of their friends and toked-out fans. K-Nova sat in with the Common Kings for a few tracks. His raspy, rap-drenched drawl brought everyone to their feet to spread the love with gyrating hips. After K-Nova left the stage, the Common Kings took the Firebird on a mix-tape odyssey, featuring dubbed-out versions of Michael Jackson, LMFAO and Gym Class Heroes. Some of the abridged versions did not work as well as others, but the frenetic pace at which Common Kings slipped into each new suite was impressive.
An eight-piece from New Zealand, Katchafire set up its stage as the audience gathered around. Wafts of herb smoke clung to my clothes. The wondrous stinky-sweet smell emanated from all around me. Lead singer and guitarist Logan Bell offered a quick hello and began "On The Road," from Katchafire's 2011 record of the same title. The song sauntered over the heads of the audience like a stoned put-put golf player. Light accents of crisp guitar layered over Tere Ngarua's thick bass notes were green heaven. Grenville Bell unleashed a searing, "In The Heat of the Night"-esque guitar solo.
"Love Letter" from 2007's "Say What You're Thinking" was layered with Marley harmonies, "You got to try-yi-yi-yi-yi," and heady, bouncy synthesizer. The soulful tune made me understand how Katchafire grew so easily grew from their roots as a Marley cover band.
"Irie" featured a darker tone for which Logan's vocals were spot on. The song featured a sensual "Exodus" vibe and metaphors for sex couched in metaphors for rolling joints. The horn section blew up during "Frisk Me Down" from 2005's "Slow Burning." Jamey Ferguson rocked the saxophone, while an unnamed trumpet player puffed his cheeks to great affect as Logan blended the sounds of Marley and Ben Harper. The song soldiered around the Firebird as the audience bent their knees and leaned into the track.
On "Who You With" Katchafire continued their effortless weed-love metaphors. The urban feel of sunny keys and dispositions flowed into rich harmonies from percussionist Leon Davey, who pattered happily on his bongos.
"Giddy Up," from 2003's "Revival" rang sweetly with saxophone and guitar solos as Logan asked the ladies to "get up and ride with me." Fan-favorite "Seriously" from "Say What You're Thinking" featured wah-wah guitar and distorted bass. Davey chanted the vocals like a priest delivering a rite during the song's extended chorus.
"Collie Herb Man" praised the herb of inspiration with distorted guitar and synthesizer xylophone sounds. Logan asked, "What would you do if the collie man comes for you?" I think we know what everyone at the Firebird would do. Katchafire offered up the tunes to provide "good karma" for "the good marijuana."
"Groove Again" featured more gorgeous horn work and a quieter vibe, near that of Al Green. The song split the difference between soul and reggae as Katchafire showed their range. The venue was thick with dancing and more smoke when Katchafire covered Marley's "Three Little Birds." The perfect rendition burned up any fear the bleary-eyed attendees may have harbored about being busted by the door guys.
Katchafire closed out its set with "Done Did It," from "Revival." The song was raucous and powerful for a dub-reggae tune. Horns set a perfect transition into the chorus as the bass dropped and supplied power to the next verse.
Katchafire left the stage, disappeared into the dressing room and emerged with more skunk smell to encore with "Sensimilia." The audience skanked their hearts out as Logan sang about judgment and retaliation. Of the three thematic variations of tunes Katchafire offers up (the three being, love/marijuana, Marley and politics), the political songs were the most interesting and affecting.
Katchafire achieved what few bands can. They transformed the Firebird into a freedom-founded club floating the ether in a nowhere DMZ somewhere between America and New Zealand, where the only rule is to enjoy the music. No efforts by the event staff or any other external force could stop the fire.