Queer supergroup Commando is finally ready to dawn their capes. With a sound akin to riot grrrl legends Bikini Kill sending-up Limp Bizkit, this eight-person crew of talented LGBTQ+ musicians is bringing a fresh, bold new flavor to the mothballed genre of nü metal.
Featuring members assembled from around the Bay Area and Los Angeles, Commando’s current lineup includes drummer Andy Meyerson, guitarist Principal Dammit, bassist Van Jackson-Weaver, and five lead vocalists: Juba Kalamka, Drew Arriola-Sands, Krylon Superstar, Lynnee Breedlove and… wait for it… San Francisco’s very own Honey Mahogany.
According to Kalamka, it was Meyerson who first pitched him and Breedlove on the idea of creating “an extended queer superhero movie soundtrack” that would channel the chaotic, infamous energy of Woodstock ‘99. As the group’s most senior members, Breedlove’s history as the lead singer of SF dyke punks Tribe 8 and Kalamka’s reputation as a founding member of the homohop group Deep Dickollective (D/DC) made them the perfect audience for what Meyerson had planned.
“He had this idea about harnessing the context of that particular moment, but turning the noxiousness of rap rock—particularly at that event—on its ear and inverting it to have conversations about queerness and social justice and queer history,” Kalamka said.
“[Andy] said he wanted to create a thing with a bunch of cool queer and trans singers and vocalists,” Breedlove added. “We put together a list of people who we thought were cool and invited a bunch of them to join us.”
The result is a glorious hodgepodge of spitfire bars, chaotic melodies and bombastic riffs calibrated to singe your eardrums while simultaneously channeling the multitudes of the modern queer experience. At 14 tracks, the album was conceived as a trio of distinct suites to better accommodate the challenges of a live touring schedule.
That was back in 2018. By the end of 2019, the album—recorded at three studios across San Francisco and Oakland—had already been completed and fully mixed. Then Covid arrived, putting an uncertain pause on any tour plans. Though painful, Kalamka shared that shelving the record did allow Commando time to partner with revered indie label Kill Rock Stars. At long last, the album finally arrived via Bandcamp on March 4.
The full band—including Mahogany—is scheduled to take the stage at The Independent on Thursday, June 23. For as challenging as it was to get everyone together to record the album, Kalamka revealed that the logistical concerns of doing it live are no small feat either. Beyond the practicalities of hosting that many artists on the Independent’s intimate stage, there are also—tragically—elements of safety to be considered as well.
After a Drag Queen Story Hour was interrupted by Proud Boys earlier this month, it’s clear to the members of Commando that being in the Bay Area is no guarantee of safety.
“We’re definitely talking about what it means to do a live show in this moment of visceral homophobia and transphobic terrorism and white supremacy,” Kalamka said. “We’re talking what it means to be on stage and to be able to step up and to be able be able to be present in that physical moment.”
“Transgender people are under a lot of pressure right now,” Breedlove said, “and a lot of people are not making it. They’re just taking themselves out. Every time we don’t take ourselves out, that we can stand up and make some art out of it, we’re saying, ‘You don’t have to take yourself out today.’”
It’s a message that resonates all the more thanks to a willingness on the part of Commando’s members to infuse their lyrics with personal stories. On “Meatswinga (Morello Muh Mello),” Kalamka references his past as a sex worker and porn actor while also touching on the little-known fact that Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello once worked as an exotic dancer. Meanwhile, on the record’s final trio of tracks, Breedlove takes lead to offer a series of spoken-word song reflections on the outing of George Michael, the death of Prince, the AIDS epidemic, and much more.
Now on the precipice of performing a special hometown gig, Kalamka confirms the band is beyond excited. That said, he also sees any show they get to play as a duty of sorts as well.
“It’s all these things,” he said. “It’s getting to come back and play live. It’s the privilege of being able to stand in this moment and to stand up for all these people that dig our goofy little music. As a bunch of queers coming from a bunch of different places, we all know the importance of just showing up. That’s why I feel like it’s my duty to show up when I can. That’s what Commando is all about.”
Commando with Man on Man, Plack Blague, Vivvyanne ForeverMORE (host). Presented by NQAF and The Stud. 8 p.m. Thursday, June 23. The Independent, 628 Divisadero, S.F. $20, 21+.