Category Archives: Los Angeles

Someone Else’s Nostalgia—X: 40 Years of Punk in Los Angeles

I was slow to appreciate the music coming out of LA in the late 70s/early 80s. There was too much good stuff in New York, or a cheap Laker Air ticket away in London. If London met the end of the postwar boom with a political howl and New York with a cynic’s shrug, early singles by Germs and others sounded, to my ears, like a nihilist tantrum. It made it easy to write them off, joking “our junkies are better than your junkies.”

I’ve since changed my mind. Los Angeles is now my home, and the city’s history is a fascinating subject.  Dropping by the preview of “X: 40 Years of Punk in Los Angeles,” opening today and up until February 25th at the Grammy Museum in Downtown LA, at times felt like being a guest in someone else’s nostalgia. I didn’t have the direct connection others felt (and it was interesting to read the opening of Chris Morris’ 1980 Rolling Stone story on the scene…which is, sadly, not available online), but I came away feeling the excitement and creativity of the era. (X also plays a part in my personal history of Los Angeles, as they were the first band I ever saw in LA, at the Roxy in November 1982.)

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I love this photo. It looks like a still from a French New Wave movie. Photo credit: Anna Summa

Located on the museum’s second floor, there are hand bills and posters along one wall—a riot of clip art, press-on type, and rough-hewn design—and photos along the other; in the center, each band member has their own tall vitrine filled with mementos, a short bio on printed on the side. The polka-dot dress that was almost Exene’s trademark hangs in her display, alongside collages she made for her lyrics. DJ Bonebrake was a collector of t-shirts, and Billy Zoom has one of his guitars and two receipts from for rehearsal space rental, signed by Masque founder Brendan Mullen. 

For John Doe, the band’s bassist and co-writer, the exhibit was nothing short of “surreal.” It’s “very strange” to be confronted with the remnants of the band’s past, he said, especially seeing how X is still a working, gigging band, playing over 100 dates a year. But he laughed at the sight of a black mesh shirt, looking almost brand new next to a ragged denim jacket. “This proves the superiority of nylon,” he joked, adding that while he doubt he’d ever wear it again, he did save it. But his two favorite items are the notebook where he first wrote the lyrics for “Los Angeles,” and the first bass he ever owned. “You can see where I spilled beer or something on it, where the ink ran through,” he pointed out, and noted the sweat stains on his bass. “That’s life.”

Scott Goldman, the Museum’s Executive Director, took pride in the exhibit, pointing out his favorite item, an Olympia manual typewriter that John and Exene used to type out their lyrics. What made it so interesting, he said, was they couldn’t agree who it belonged to. When asked about it, Doe took the diplomatic way out: “we got it from a thrift shop on Santa Monica by Fairfax.”

While he was taking it all in, he brushed off the suggestion that something like the late 70s could happen again. “That’s the beauty of the a scene: it’s there for a moment and gone forever.” But X, even after 40 years and becoming literal museum pieces, plays on.

 

 

 

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Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau/CAP UCLA

They don’t look like they should be on the same stage together. Chris Thile, a mandolin player of almost supernatural gifts, now firmly ensconced in “A Prairie Home Companion,” boyish and tousled, in jeans and a striped sweater; Brad Mehldau, an equally talented jazz pianist, his cropped hair grey, dressed in black jeans, jacket t-shirt and boots. As they start playing, you could believe they’re from different worlds—Thile all smiles and ease, rocking on the balls of his feet, unfazed by a problem with his in-ear monitors (his eyes light up when, a few songs later, he tries them again, and they work); Mehldau serious and composed. What they share an endless curiosity and collaborative nature; they travel in wide orbits.

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Photo by Kathleen Schenck/CAP UCLA

While Friday night’s performance at The Theatre at Ace Hotel kicked off this year’s CAP UCLA season, its spiritual home was a few miles northwest at  Largo.  Both Mehldau and Thile are veterans of both Largos—the original club on Fairfax Avenue and the sit-down Largo at the Coronet on La Cienega, where the kind of expansive cross-genre music they play is not just accepted but encouraged.

“That Old Shade Tree,” which opened their show and their Nonesuch album, touches on jazz, folk, soul, and rock, but arrives at something that sounds like nothing but itself. Thile starts out strumming damped strings, his angelic falsetto dropping into his tenor with the speed and force of a felled tree,  Mehldau’s piano laying down down an inquisitive line which turns full-throated and assured, a flower opening up at the first sign of sun. As a statement of intent and introduction, it’s damn near perfect.

That level in invention and surprise was sustained throughout the 90-minute performance. It’s music made with a light touch but serious ambition.  They even manage a Largo trifecta with a wonderfully refracted version of Fiona Apple’s “Fast As You Can.” “I Cover The Waterfront” was brooding and noirish, their playing as enveloping and cool as a slow-moving fog. Joni Mitchell’s “Marcie” retains the song’s lovely rock-skipping melody, but strips away the original recording’s mannered production. Thile’s tender vocal emphasizes the song’s melancholy: the letter undelivered, her unexplained exit, the rumors take on darker, more complex shadings. And his “Noise Machine” is a stunner. A lullaby to an colicky child, the singer tired but loving, both amazed and frightened, the refrain “your mother is a hero,” comforting them both.  But he just seems too nice a guy to pull off “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” one of Dylan’s nastiest kiss-offs. He knows it, too, and makes a joke of the final “you just wasted my precious time.” Musically, it’s another story, as their arrangement touches on Irving Berlin, bluegrass, Monk, and Tatum. It’s a joyous expression of freedom, the the instruments taking down the road with a light step and full of optimism.

 

 

 


Not Just Another Night with Ian Hunter

Everyone has that old friend: someone who used to be a big part of your life, helping you get through the tough times and celebrate the good times, but over the years you’ve lost touch. Lately, probably through social media, you’ve reconnected. Facebook postings, emails, the occasional phone call, maybe a visit once or twice a year. It will never be what it once was, but you’re glad they’re part of your life.

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Ian Hunter, flashing a smile at the Teragram Ballroom, 12September17

Ian Hunter is like that old friend. The two Mott the Hoople shows I saw growing up (at the Felt Forum and during their Uris Theater run) were stunning and inclusive. Where Bowie and bands such as the Stones seemed otherworldly, Hunter embraced his fans. He was a little older, but willing to show you the ropes—like your father’s cool friend, or that hip professor. He understood what it meant to be a fan in the way many of his contemporaries didn’t.

And it was great to see him last night at the Teragram Ballroom (the best-sounding room in Los Angeles, thanks to another old pal, Robin Danar). Some of the old stories are brought out for another run—sure, you know how they go, and if some of the details have faded away, that’s fine. There’s also some catching up to do, new stories to be told. If they’re not as memorable or dramatic as the old ones, that’s fine. You’re just happy to see him looking and sounding so good at 78.

It took a few songs for Hunter and the Rant Band to find their feet. The first two or three were plagued by equipment problems, which seemed to throw everyone off their game. By the time they leaned into “When I’m President,” Hunter and the Rant Band were back in business. The years have scuffed up his voice a bit, which shortens the distance he needs to travel in order to sound Dylan-ish (“Just Another Night” and “All American Alien Boy” could be outtakes from Planet Waves and Street Legal, respectively.)

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Ian Hunter (right) and, beneath the hat, Johnny Depp—auditioning, apparently, for the lead in “The Jack White Story.”

He’s also self-aware enough to joke about the problems of being a legacy act. “You do a new song, and the punters all wonder, ‘what’s he on about now’,” he joked after playing “Dandy,” his tribute to Bowie (from last year’s Fingers Crossed),  “if you play the old ones, and the record company complains ‘he’s playing the same old shit’.” After pausing for the knowing laugh, he broke into a big grin, and added “well, here’s some of the same old shit,” before launching into a rollicking  “The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nuthin’ But The Truth.” Compared to the old Mott favorites, that’s a relative newcomer. And the new material is good. A song like “Ghosts” is exactly what you want to hear from an septeganian rocker: an elegiac dream, which could also describe re-listening the music you grew up with. “The turntable spinning ’round/Put the needle down,” he pleads.

This is as good a place as any to bring up just how fine the Rant Band sounds. Jim Mastro and Mark Bosch continue Hunter’s streak of playing with great guitarists (Johnny Depp, who joined the band for a few songs, perhaps not. He does try and look the part, in all black and a lit cigarette dangling from his lip.) Steve Holley, formerly of Wings, is behind the drum kit.

So, who cares if Hunter flubbed the lyrics to the first verse of “All The Way From Memphis”? He shrugged it off,  knowing “you climb up the mountains and fall down the holes.” This might not have been an evening that goes down in the book, but it warmed the soul.  At the end of the encore (his cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” then “All The Young Dudes” sliding into “Goodnight, Irene”), he saluted the crowd, bidding the audience  goodnight and, ever the trouper, reminding them to come again.

I’ll be there. That’s what friends do.


Not Just Another Night with Ian Hunter

Everyone has that old friend: someone who used to be a big part of your life, helping you get through the tough times and celebrate the good times, but over the years you’ve lost touch. Lately, probably through social media, you’ve reconnected. Facebook postings, emails, the occasional phone call, maybe a visit once or twice a year. It will never be what it once was, but you’re glad they’re part of your life.

fullsizeoutput_583

Ian Hunter, flashing a smile at the Teragram Ballroom, 12September17

Ian Hunter is like that old friend. The two Mott the Hoople shows I saw growing up (at the Felt Forum and during their Uris Theater run) were stunning and inclusive. Where Bowie and bands such as the Stones seemed otherworldly, Hunter embraced his fans. He was a little older, but willing to show you the ropes—like your father’s cool friend, or that hip professor. He understood what it meant to be a fan in the way many of his contemporaries didn’t.

And it was great to see him last night at the Teragram Ballroom (the best-sounding room in Los Angeles, thanks to another old pal, Robin Danar). Some of the old stories are brought out for another run—sure, you know how they go, and if some of the details have faded away, that’s fine. There’s also some catching up to do, new stories to be told. If they’re not as memorable or dramatic as the old ones, that’s fine. You’re just happy to see him looking and sounding so good at 78.

It took a few songs for Hunter and the Rant Band to find their feet. The first two or three were plagued by equipment problems, which seemed to throw everyone off their game. By the time they leaned into “When I’m President,” Hunter and the Rant Band were back in business. The years have scuffed up his voice a bit, which shortens the distance he needs to travel in order to sound Dylan-ish (“Just Another Night” and “All American Alien Boy” could be outtakes from Planet Waves and Street Legal, respectively.)

fullsizeoutput_582

Ian Hunter (right) and, beneath the hat, Johnny Depp—auditioning, apparently, for the lead in “The Jack White Story.”

He’s also self-aware enough to joke about the problems of being a legacy act. “You do a new song, and the punters all wonder, ‘what’s he on about now’,” he joked after playing “Dandy,” his tribute to Bowie (from last year’s Fingers Crossed),  “if you play the old ones, and the record company complains ‘he’s playing the same old shit’.” After pausing for the knowing laugh, he broke into a big grin, and added “well, here’s some of the same old shit,” before launching into a rollicking  “The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nuthin’ But The Truth.” Compared to the old Mott favorites, that’s a relative newcomer. And the new material is good. A song like “Ghosts” is exactly what you want to hear from an septeganian rocker: an elegiac dream, which could also describe re-listening the music you grew up with. “The turntable spinning ’round/Put the needle down,” he pleads.

This is as good a place as any to bring up just how fine the Rant Band sounds. Jim Mastro and Mark Bosch continue Hunter’s streak of playing with great guitarists (Johnny Depp, who joined the band for a few songs, perhaps not. He does try and look the part, in all black and a lit cigarette dangling from his lip.) Steve Holley, formerly of Wings, is behind the drum kit.

So, who cares if Hunter flubbed the lyrics to the first verse of “All The Way From Memphis”? He shrugged it off,  knowing “you climb up the mountains and fall down the holes.” This might not have been an evening that goes down in the book, but it warmed the soul.  At the end of the encore (his cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” then “All The Young Dudes” sliding into “Goodnight, Irene”), he saluted the crowd, bidding the audience  goodnight and, ever the trouper, reminding them to come again.

I’ll be there. That’s what friends do.


A moment of joy, a hideaway from Tr**p’s America

I’ve been house sitting, spending my days  with a lovely senior dog named Romeo. He’s a good old dog, but an enthusiastic licker. After the first hour or so, I didn’t mind. It’s the most action I’ve gotten in a while. The house in the part of Mid City that wants badly to be known as Wilshire Vista Heights, which are three nice words, but putting them together renders them meaningless. Wilshire Heights Vista or Vista Wilshire Heights would do just as blankly. Pico/LaBrea or Roscoe’s Adjacent are more accurate, but probably not euphonious enough for the Neighborhood Association.

As I was taking Romeo for his afternoon walk, I heard music coming from across the street, and saw the tops of what looked like giant paper mache marionettes. It was too much for Romeo, so I brought him back, and checked it out solo. They weren’t marionette but dance puppets that anyone could put on and celebrate the Fest of St. James de Santiago.

There was a brass band (playing corridas that at times verged into something that sounded like Klezmer). And people couldn’t have been nicer. They patiently explained to the uni-lingual me (what little French I remembered from PS 90 did me little good) what was going on, then insisted I eat (my phone battery died before I could take pictures of the tamales). It was the nicest of urban surprises: coming across something you had no idea about five minutes earlier, and getting an ear-, eye–, and mouthful of another culture.

As I walked back, all I could think about is why would anyone not want these people to be part of their country? They are everything GOP says they love about this country: Church-going, open, and working for a better life. But Il Douché keeps looking for ways to make their life worse; his recent speeches demanding the police shoot first and ask questions never are not worthy of an American President.

They—and we—deserve better.


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