Local neo-psych-rockers make Kahilu debut
Keyboardist Kaimalu Harmon’s eerie otherworldly tones opened Mister Peanut’s 90-minute Kahilu Theatre show last Friday. “Set The Controls” is a very spacey jam, much like you’d hear on an early Pink Floyd or Jimi Hendrix album. Lead vocalist Mike Bennet provided random starship trooper commands until the mothership landed on planet Peanut Butter and the song ended.
The stage was littered with various props like an old refrigerator, an alien giving the peace sign, and a cardboard cut-out of Chuck Gessert, the theatre’s artistic director. Mind-bending visuals were projected behind the band on a large screen as multi-colored lights flashed, enhancing the audience’s psychedelic experience.
Mister Peanut Butter was formed in 2015 and is now a six-piece band with Mike Bennett on vocals and rhythm guitar, Sam Gruesen on vocals and lead guitar, Josh Hodges on bass, Chris Wilson on drums, Kaimalu Harmon on keyboards, and Katy Arnovick on acoustic rhythm guitar and vocals.
The group struggled to come up with the band’s name at first. The Clams was briefly considered, but it didn’t stick with the members, so they settled on Mister Peanut Butter. Over the years, they’ve performed at Big Island venues like the Hilo Town Tavern, Mike Luce Studio, and even a pop-up show at the Waimea ReStore.
The band’s faithful followers, Peanettes, made their presence known at Friday’s concert by dancing in the aisles and swaying their arms in the air following the music. A few fans kept the beat by pounding on the stage. Some even tossed dollar bills at the group to show their appreciation. The young crowd brought some much-needed fun and energy that’s been missing at the venue since the pandemic began.
Mister Peanut Butter’s sound represents the group’s multiple musical influences. “We have a lot of similar interests and backgrounds and let it take shape,” noted Mike Bennett in our post-show interview. “I handle the lyrics, but for the most part, the songwriting is a collaborative effort.”
Friday’s concert included many highlights. With a 17-song setlist, two stood out as the most college radio-friendly. On “Modern Love” and “Live To Pretend,” you can hear a bit of raw Velvet Underground/Lou Reed influence. The group did a clever remake of The Kinks’ hit “Well Respected Man” with almost a Ramones vibe.
Sam Gruesen’s face-melting lead guitar solos were terrific. With an impressive array of effects pedals, the sound that came out of his amps was a mix of prog-rock phasing and what Ernie Isley achieved in the 1970s. It’s a shame it sometimes drowned out Katy Arnovick’s acoustic guitar.
Mister Peanut Butter presented an exhilarating, refreshing, and brilliantly enjoyable performance. Hopefully, the world of live music will be restored to its former brilliance and allow more of these shows.
The band’s current album is titled Live from Planet Earth and was recorded at Hilo’s Kukuau Studio in early 2020. It’s exclusively available on Bandcamp. Friday’s Kahilu concert was recorded in multi-track, and the band is considering releasing it in 2022, which would make it the first live album recorded at the venue.
Notes & Links
Set The Controls | Modern Love | What’s The Connection? | Damned Machine | Penny Mines | One Crow | Tommy | Well Respected Man | Live To Pretend | Your Days Are Numbered | Seaports | Bring The Rain | World Turns | Handgun | You Can Win |
Show Us The Way Home
Connect with Mister Peanut Butter on Bandcamp.
About the author: Steve Roby is a music journalist and editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Steve Roby