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Ninjas, Mormons face off
James Egan For the Times-Standard

Vanessa Heintz

Who rocks harder: fake Ninjas or fake Mormons?

The age-old question will be settled Monday when bands Ninja Academy and The Mormons hit the Arcata Plaza as part of their Pacific Northwest Tour.

The groups will play a free all-ages show at the Metro at 4 p.m., then travel several hundred feet northwest to play a 21-and-older show at the Alibi at 11:15 p.m. with a $4 cover charge.

Instrumental bass and drum duo Ninja Academy will be opening. The members, who prefer to go by Indo Ninja and Outdo Ninja, play in full ninja gear, masks and all.

”It's pretty suffocating, but it's all for the art,” said drummer Outdo Ninja, who defines the band's genre as “instrumental bass and drum fury.”

Their music is a high-octane mix of metal and jazz that brings to mind Primus and old Nintendo games. Outdo's aggressive, super-tight style of drumming and Indo's all-over-the-neck style of playing bass make Ninja Academy sound much bigger than a duo. It often sounds like the music is coming from three, possibly four or five separate ninjas. They've played bars and clubs all around their hometown of Los Angeles, and songs from their two albums have been played on radio stations and even as background music in MTV's “Real World” and “Road Rules” series.

The duo has been playing together since their high school years, when they rocked church talent shows and birthday parties in their first band, called The Initiative. Although Indo Ninja claimed he's blocked most of it out, some memories remain.

”Everybody was out skateboarding and we were in the garage playing Cure covers,” he said. Since then, they've played together as bra'ka dOm, a jam-based group that frequented Los Angeles open-mic nights in the late '90s.

The idea for ninja costumes stemmed from a comment made at a high school reunion that Indo had disappeared like a ninja after graduation. The ninja idea turned into an inside joke, which snowballed into a band premise. The name “Ninja Academy” came from the filename for a friend's short film, which Indo was helping make. He said the name has a deeper meaning, since the band is a learning experience for both members, and they occasionally share lessons with guest musicians. “I think we just smoke too much weed,” he said.

When the ninjas finish their set, punk group The Mormons will take the floor.

”I'll put the Mormons up against any band, any band in the world,” said Mormons manager Joey Welcher. “The Mormons are in

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the middle of a big push. They have a lot of momentum.”

After eight years as a band with a rotating lineup that has encompassed at least a dozen musicians, the powerfully precise five-piece group is promoting its album “Statement of No Statement.” They've played countless shows in the Los Angeles area and have toured California extensively, playing a diverse array of gigs, from Bummerfest to the Warped Tour. Their music is well-controlled chaos; it's jarring and coordinated, with a uniquely choppy pace that complements the vocals. The lead singer's urgent, somebody-knocked-the-wind-out-of-me wail is reminiscent of Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo. Well-placed breaks that don't derail the rhythm litter their songs.

Decked in matching black pants, collared white shirts, black ties, backpacks and bicycle helmets, the Mormons have a stage presence as compelling as it is confounding. Although none of the members are actually Mormons, they see the job of spreading their musical message as similar to the work of the Mormons. As their website puts it: “We don the image of Mormon missionaries symbolizing the dedication, the sacrifice, and the obsession common in most artists.”

The Mormons have been dressing the part since they were formed, and their on-stage attire has since grown to be more than a gimmick.

”The uniform became something without us even trying,” said guitarist and original member Vincent O'Campo. “We started seeing parallels between what we are doing and what the Mormon missionaries are doing. Initially (the reaction is) shock, but after the first few minutes (the audience) starts to get into it.”

The band said the vast majority of Mormons they encounter approve of the band and take no offense.

O'Campo said that the costumes also signify a refusal to conform to a growing superficiality they're noticing in other bands. “They're grown men, but they have mascara and $80 haircuts,” he said. “It kind of takes away from their music. Plus,” he added, “we're not that attractive from the start.”

     
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