Local artists perform unconventional show at Blackbird Cafe

John Underwood waking up The Blackbird in Chico with his eccentric set Tuesday.

Grant Schmieding

John Underwood waking up The Blackbird in Chico with his eccentric set Tuesday.

Abstract art, leather cuffs, bare feet, paint splatters, cheap beer, minimal seating, dim lighting and camaraderie accompanied soulful music Tuesday night as locals stagger around the backside of the tiny Blackbird Café.

The atmosphere feels small, almost intimidating to an outsider. Stepping through the doors of the little bookshop, it looks as though everyone already knows each other.

People eagerly pay a small cover charge upon entering, excited to see an eccentric, experimental folk music show featuring John Underwood and Mathew Houghton, also known as Cat Depot. These underground indie artists are supported by Chico Area Punks(CAP)—a non-profit organization established in 2000, that books, promotes and supports local musicians in Chico.

Primarily focusing on punk rock, CAP seems to be attempting to breathe some life into Chico’s local DIY music scene. It’s promoted music may not be casual car-ride jams, but performed live, it certainly creates a captivating scene.

The venue feels like close quarters, almost claustrophobic. The stage looks like an angsty teen’s bedroom. Tiny groups spread throughout the café—observing the bulletin boards, stickers and band merchandise, strewn throughout the bar.

The next song is, “because I take myself too seriously,” Houghton says, as he begins plucking his guitar and toying with his audio loops. Once the music starts, a feeling of calm immersion washes over the small crowd. Eyes glaze over and heads start bobbing in the dimly-lit café.

Houghton timidly addresses the crowd, thanking them for the support, as he wraps up his set and introduces Underwood. Light chatter fills the small space as Underwood conducts his sound checks.

Spectators fall silent as louder, more playful music radiates throughout the room. Heads and feet sway slightly faster as Underwood switches between nine different instruments and belts out lyrics in a unique, raspy voice. 

The vibe slows and a sense of community permeates the crowd as Underwood genuinely thanks the venue for agreeing to feed him and his fellow musicians after the show. “I’ll do the same for any small-time musicians performing in my hometown of Reno, Nevada,” Underwood offers.

As the night’s music comes to a close, old Nirvana albums play softly in the background while people finish their drinks.

Grant Schmieding can be reached at [email protected] or @G_Schmieding on Twitter.