(Don’t Fear) the Lillies

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Blue Oyster Cult rocked the Rose in Pasadena on Saturday, July 15th, but my focus of the evening, though very excited for B.O.C, was set on the openers, The Lillies, who have been one of the most enduring acts to come from the High Desert in the last decade. This show is significant to them for a lot of reasons; mainly that it is the biggest act this local quartet has ever opened for. In the seven years they’ve been active, the Lillies have managed to be a mainstay of the high desert scene and a show like is a result of a lot of perseverance and determination. Through it was only a thirty minute set, the Lillies still managed to bring their best to Pasadena.

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Thirty minutes may not seem like much, especially for a band with enough material to go a full hour if they wanted to (and they have). The set-list was crucial in order to appeal to crowd of ravenous Blue Oyster Cult fans while also giving them a taste of the variety The Lillies are known for. Singer Robert Pereda echoed this sentiment when I spoke with him backstage, “Well, we have a very diverse catalogue… … we’re opening for Blue Oyster Cult, so we kind of have to brainstorm that, but at the same time, you know, the audience, you know, they might be into other shit, too. So, we kind of mix that in and just tried to pick the stuff we had solid and fit together as a whole set.”

Old favorites like “Joany” and “Maria” made the cut with newer tracks like “The Shake”, “Hired Hearts” and “The Great Unknown”, the latter of which turned out to be the band’s closer. “Hired Hearts” has been the band’s go-to closer for a while because of the grandiose nature of the song, but instead they chose to change it up and end with this newer, mellower song. Pereda spoke about the process of ending a set list and the importance of changing it up as players, ’You know, it’s always weird picking an ender, because you’re like, ‘should it be a heavy, epic thing or should it be a cool winding-it-down kind of thing’?  So we always try to calculate that… …Also it’s refreshing for us as players… …You always want to keep it fresh, because if it gets too monotonous and you get used to like, ‘oh, this is what works so I’m just gonna keep doing this every time’. Sincerity kind of goes out the window and it seems more orchestrated and staged.”

Going on seven years working together, Pereda and guitarist Matthew Humphrey know what it takes to keep things fresh and light hearted in the band. When I asked what it was they liked about working together, I apparently caught the two off guard.

“Uhhhhhhhh,” was all Pereda could muster.

“Uhhhhhhhh,” followed Humphrey

“Uhhhhhhhh.”

“Uhhhhhhhh.”

“You wanna take this one?”

“Black Sabbath?”

Humphrey finally spoke honestly, “we’re both really good players and I really feel that both of our guitar styles, they’re not the same, but they complement each other. You know, we’ve learned to give each other room. If Robert does this here, I don’t want do something over here, I want to do something that makes that sound good, and it should be vice versa, you know what I mean. Plus, where else am I gonna find a guy with a voice like that?”

“And the mustache,” bassist Eduardo “Eddy” Romero added.

“And the mustache. And plus, he’s like a brother to me, so I couldn’t really think of playing music with anyone else.”

Indeed, dynamic is strong between Pereda and Humphrey and is the driving force behind the Lillies, but that is not to understate the contributions of Romero and drummer Javi Banuelos, who round out the lineup solidly. When talking about coming into the band last February, Eddy says he’s changed a lot as a musician, “I think what I like about the band is they have a lot of experience together, they know the good, the bad, the ugly, the pretty… and that’s why I’m here, I’m the pretty… …it’s challenging playing with them, it is challenging. These are the guy that will tell you something straight and you get it, not in a bad way, but you get it and that makes you improve a lot. So, I kind of feel they’ve made me improve a lot as a musician”

Banuelos shared this attitude when talking about his time with the Lillies thus far, “It’s just like I expect from them and so far it’s been great. You know, they push me to do and work on things I’ve never worked on before. I kind of expect the same, to push them and expand their horizons, or you know, play stuff they’ve never thought of playing.”

It may seem like Pereda and Humphrey is a strict duo, but in the seven years they’ve been working together, the two have developed strong identities as musicians. That doesn’t mean they aren’t up for new things. “It’s refreshing,” said Humphrey, “just because, you know you get a new player who plays completely different and it’s just refreshing. Normally, someone else would do this, but a new person does this other thing so it makes you go, ‘oh, well maybe I won’t do this, I’ll try out a new thing’.”

Banuelos isn’t exactly a new player when it comes to the Lillies, however. His tenure with the group stretches way back to the early days. “He was drummer our very first live gig ever,” Humphrey shared with me, “without a drum machine. He was our first drummer at our first show ever. He was in another band and”-

“Well, that’s kind of disrespectful to our drum machine” said Pereda

“Blackie?”

“Yeah, it busted it’s ass for a lot of gigs.”

“He left. Blackie left.”

“Yeah, but hey, Blackie had perfect rhythm.”

“Pocket player,” Humphrey agreed while flicking his cigarette, “Blackie was a pocket player. In the pocket, all the time.”

“Oh yeah. Blackie just always showed up on time.”

“Wasn’t very diverse, but he was always on tempo.”

“He kinda did what we told him,” Pereda shrugged, “which was kinda nice.”

“It was really nice”

“It made me feel like a dictator.”

“Honestly, I wished he would have never left the band, but there was had some legal issues. Blackie, if you’re listening to this, we need you.”

As for the rest of the concert, it was as you would expect from a band of the caliber of Blue Oyster Cult. Despite both pushing 70, Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom still show no signs of slowing down. It’s honestly pointless to put into words how good the show was. It was clean, it was sexy, it was cosmic, and it was everything I wanted it to be. Okay, maybe that is overstating it a little bit, but it was still a great performance that featured big hits like “Godzilla”, “Burnin’ for You” and “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”. It was a tremendous pleasure to spend the evening bullshitting with the Lillies and watching Blue Oyster Cult. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget.

As for the future of the Lillies, there is a lot on the horizon. Pereda assured me that their long overdue second album is the main focus of the band right now, but they remain open to whatever life will throw at them, “Well, we’ve got an album to finish up, so we’re really excited about that. We’re working hard on that and that’s kind of the end goal right now, get this album done, get it recorded and get it out there and market it, but at the same time, opportunities come and go, so we wanna take as many of them as we can.”

 

-b.d. ponce

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